Doubt was 2008's kick in your intellectual gut. This film straps you in for a roller coaster through right, wrong, faith, reality, morality, and of course, doubt.
Doubt takes place in the early 1960s and is centered on the arrival of an African American student, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster), at an all-white Catholic school. Miller swiftly becomes the target of ridicule for obvious and not so obvious reasons. Seeking some form of acceptance and guidance, Donald welcomes the friendly attention of the church priest, Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Controversy begins when Sister James (Amy Adams) reveals her suspicion about Father Flynn's possibly inappropriate behavior toward Donald to Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep). Buckle your seat belt and pull down your safety bar, because Doubt is set to take you on one heck of a ride.
At first glance, the movie simply tells a story of Sister Aloysius' determination to protect the beliefs that she holds dear. However, the scrutiny of a more discerning eye reveals that there are deeper and more intricate plots at work.
Doubt forces you to view the story from each different perspective offered. You begin to understand the plight of an old fashioned nun whose beliefs are the foundation of her existence. You are awed at her dogged determination to see justice prevail. As the story deepens, your trust in her motives starts to waver. You wonder if it is truly justice she is seeking or whether her real motive is to eliminate a man who is embracing change and attempting to break the monotony of racism and indifference. You contemplate the indecision of the naive nun who only wants tranquility to resume. You heart is in turmoil as you observe the struggle and try to grasp the reality of a child's mother. You grow to appreciate the dreams and hopes of the church priest and are continually uncertain whose side you are on.
Doubt straddles the line of right and wrong down the wire.
The movie's most heart-wrenching moment comes when Sister Aloysius confronts the boy's mother, Mrs. Miller (Viola Davis). Sister Aloysius' grasp on reality is violently jarred. No one, not the boy's mother nor the initially suspicious nun, is willing to support her as she stays true to her course. Is doing the right thing doing the right thing?
Cinematographer Roger Deakins' ability to capture the perfect angle keeps us visually stimulated. His skills combined with a splendid score from composer Howard Shore set the perfect stage for writer/director John Patrick Shanley to weave his masterpiece.
I have to say that I think Doubt cheated just a bit. With such powerful actors as Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Viola Davis, and Amy Adams, who are already known for their resounding diversity and sincerity on film, how could the film do anything but soar? The ingenious combination of Meryl Streep's ferocity and tenacity pitted against Philip Seymour Hoffman's gentle and seemingly innocent disposition were key features in the classic conflict between good and evil. Viola Davis' uncanny ability to portray an everyday mother caught between love and reality made her performance one of the most controversial in the film. Amy Adams' sweet naivety shifts from bringing a smile to your face to working your last nerve.
This movie brings to light several interesting questions and ultimately leaves one clawing at the back of your skull: What do you do when you have doubt?