Sunday, December 21, 2008

Doubt: a review

Transforming a play into a film is difficult at best. They are two different venues. Theater is an aural medium. People don't go to a Shakespeare or Shaw play for the action. They go for the poetry, language and ideas. Movies are a visual medium the words just connect the images and scenes. There are exceptions, but the best of film is visual. I can't argue with the people who say Doubt was a better play than it is a film, I never saw the play. I have great respect for Cherry Jones, Bryan F. O'Byrne, Heather Goldenhersch and Adriane Lenox who originally played the roles on stage, but I doubt that their performances compared with Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis in the film.

The story takes place at St. Nicholas [Catholic] Church School in the Bronx. Autumn 1964. Once the setting is established the film steps outside the confines of the school only once, in a scene between Viola Davis and Meryl Streep, which may be the most moving scene in the film.

The play had a "ripped-from-the-headlines" feel about it. It opened at the height of the Catholic church abuse scandals. Another abuse story was in the paper or on TV every day. Not so much any more. The media can't follow a story to the bitter end. They lose focus on it after a while. So I'm not sure that it will attract the same attention as a film. But it is well worth your time and attention. It's truly extraordinary. The performances alone - Streep, Hoffman, Adams and Davis - are all Oscar worthy.They are at a level we rarely have the privilege of seeing. But the story about Sister Aloysius (Streep) who accuses Father Flynn (Hoffman) of giving wine to the only student of color at the school. A young nun, Sister James (Adams) sides with - trusts - Father Flynn. Viola Davis plays the boy's mother. The conversation between Davis and Streep first in Sister Aloysius's office and then on a walk, because the mother has to get to work, in which the mother talks about what harm will come to the boy - both at the school and, particularly, at home - by exposing the relationship with Father Flynn. Particularly, because the boy may have wanted it. This and the scene when the Aloysius and Flynn finally confront each other better acting has rarely been seen.

Who's right and who's wrong is ultimately left up to the viewer. I thought the Father Flynn was probably guilty of the behavior of which he was being accused, Ann thought he wasn't. That, of course, is the core of the film - doubt. If nothing else, it's not a simple film. As the title sugests the question of doubt versus
certainty is at its heart. From the moment the film begins with Father Flynn's sermon on doubt till it ends with doubt entering into the absolute certainty that has here-to-fore shaped Sister Aloysius's world we are confronted by deep questions. If we begin to doubt, then is there any certainty - even about god? That may be ultimately at the heart of the struggle and the film. But what acting.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

thank you...i was probably going to miss this.