Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Doubt — Best Movie of the Year?

After watching Meryl Streep's performance as a zealous, unsympathetic believer in Doubt, I left the theater knowing I'd seen one of the best acting performances I'd seen in a long time.

Streep plays Sister Aloysius Beauvier, a Catholic nun who suspects the priest of a 1960s' era Catholic school of abusing one of his charges. Father Brendan Flynn, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, has a range of facial expressions that often betray a meaning contrary to what's coming out of his mouth.

Based on the stage play by John Patrick Shanley, who also wrote the screenplay and directed the movie version, Doubt is a restrained, powerful piece of art. All the actors playing the lead roles infuse their performances with subtlety and depth, pulling the viewer into Doubt's story.

The centrepiece of the movie's plot is Sister Aloysius's crusade to remove Father Flynn from his position at the school. Although she has no proof that he sexually abused Donald Miller (Joseph Foster), a young, black boy (and, apparently, the only black student in the school), she zealously pursues her crusade to rid the school of Flynn.

Doubt can be viewed as a cautionary tale about the powers of belief. How can one dissuade a believer that what they've put their faith in isn't true? What if the believer's views are so strong that they refuse to accept they may be in the wrong?

Such is the case with Sister Aloysius. When Flynn tells her, "You don't have the slightest proof of anything!", her response is, "But I have my certainty!" And so begins her crusade to discredit Flynn and remove the priest from his position of influence.

Her dogged pursuit eventually results in Flynn's resignation... and promotion by higher-ups in the church. In the movie's last moments Sister Aloysius breaks down crying to a young, impressionable nun, "I have doubts... I have such doubts!"

Of course we never find out whether Father Flynn is guilty of the crime he's accused of.

For myself, Doubt is a movie that will demand multiple viewings when it's released on DVD and Blu-Ray. Many of the plot elements of the movie are easy to miss, and have a significance that I hope is explained in the DVD's extra.

For instance, in one scene Father Flynn shows off his nails to his young charges. He wants to impress on the boys how clean his nails are, and also how he keeps them slightly longer than men usually keep their fingernails. When Sister Aloysius declares her intention to have Flynn removed, she ends her verbal salvo by snapping at Flynn, "And cut your nails."

Doubt is definitely a movie in step with the world's dark times (the economy, Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Stephen Harper running Canada, etc...) I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys compelling, plot-driven dramas.

Josh's Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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