Doubt Review
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One can never say that Meryl Streep has succumbed to typecasting. From dramas to comedies to wacky ABBA musicals, she’s up for pretty much anything. And as she once again shows in writer/director John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, she can take on pretty much any role—and make it look easy.

In this screen version of Shanley’s award-winning stage play, set in the turbulent ‘60s, Streep stars as Sister Aloysius, the stone-faced, by-the-book principal of the St. Nicholas school. As she clings to her traditional, disapproving ways, she’s challenged by the parish’s progressive and easy-going new priest, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

From the beginning, Sister Aloysius disapproves of Father Flynn’s friendly, personable demeanor. But when he preaches a sermon on doubt, she begins to question his faith and his actions. She shares her concerns with young, naďve, and eager-to-please Sister James (Amy Adams), who then starts to suspect that Father Flynn’s relationship with one of her students might not be entirely innocent.

Armed with Sister James’s hesitant suspicion, Sister Aloysius sets out to prove Father Flynn’s guilt and remove him from the parish.

Part drama, part mystery, part morality play, Doubt is sure to fill you with doubt from beginning to end. The writing is sharp—and there are so many different ways to read into the characters’ actions that the story will keep you guessing. You’ll never quite know whom to believe. Is Sister Aloysius simply jumping to conclusions, or is she on to something? Is Father Flynn innocent, or is he hiding something? Like poor, sweet Sister James, you’ll feel conflicted, challenged, and caught in the middle.

But Doubt’s thought-provoking story is only accentuated by its stellar cast. Streep is phenomenal as the cold, suspicious Sister Aloysius (who often reminded me of Miranda Priestly in a habit)—but Hoffman has no problem keeping up. When the two are on-screen together, their crisp, lightning-quick dialogue is mesmerizing. And it never falters—except when it’s supposed to. But while Streep and Hoffman give spectacular performances, they share their well-deserved spotlight with both Adams and Viola Davis, who gives a small but moving performance as a hard-working mother who’s struggling to protect her son.

Shanley also did an excellent job of translating the story from stage to screen, keeping the story simple without making it feel too stagey. His directing may be a bit heavy-handed at times—and he tends to load the film with blatantly dramatic symbolism, quirky contrasts, and foreshadowing. But, in the end, it all works surprisingly well—and the result is a haunting and mysterious film that’s guaranteed to spark a thoughtful discussion or two after the credits roll.

Blu-ray Review:
The Blu-ray release of this thought-provoking Oscar-nominated drama features a handful of extras that give more insight into the story, the characters, and the filmmaking process. From Stage to Screen is a 19-minute making-of feature, in which writer/director John Patrick Shanley discusses the story’s background, as well as its life and growth—from an award-winning play to a successful film. The focus then shifts to the stellar cast for The Cast of Doubt, an interview with the four Oscar-nominated actors, who offer their own views and observations about the story. There’s also a feature on composer Howard Shore’s score and an interesting interview with actual nuns from the Sisters of Mercy.

Finally, the disc also includes Shanley’s commentary track. It’s always interesting to see where a director will take his or her commentary. Some just sit and chat about things that happened on set. Some go into detail about the filmmaking process. Shanley’s commentary, on the other hand, is part autobiography and part history lesson. Of course, there are some of the usual filmmaking tidbits. But, since the movie was filmed in Shanely’s old neighborhood, and it’s about his old parish, he sprinkles the commentary with details about his childhood and explanations about the Catholic Church in the ‘60s. That makes for a personal and insightful commentary, which fits in perfectly with the rest of the informative and enlightening features on the disc.

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