Saturday, January 10, 2009

Doubt, the movie.

The Pulitzer prize winning play by John Patrick Shanley, Doubt, has been brought to the screen and is definitely worth seeing. It stars Meryl Streep and the golden-voiced Philip Seymour Hoffman (who can do no wrong!).

Meryl Streep is the head nun and Principal of the local Catholic school. Basically she's a dragon looking for something to incinerate. Unfortunately Streep's her usual, distracting, self in the role. She seems to bring echoes of every character she's ever played to all her current roles. Her facial ticks, the oblique way she looks at other characters, her familiar head movements (as the great New York Times critic Pauline Kael once wrote 'she only acts with her head'), these all get in the way.

Hoffman's priest is perfect though. With his warmth, largeness and obvious humanity, you just know he doesn't belong and won't last in this cloistered, straightened, pre-conciliar time (1964). But you also know, because you just know, that sexually there is a problem.

The nun accuses the priest of interfering with an altar boy.

From the start and all the way through the undolding drama, though there's no evidence whatsoever, the audience is on Streep's side. We know now a lot more than we did forty years ago. We know about priests and pedophilia and the scandals of the last decade and the way bishops avoided responsibility and simply moved the accused around different parishes rather than confronting the problem. Admirably the nun confronts it, and of course the predictable happens.

My guess is that the play would have had more confronting scenes and richer, challenging dialogue. In this film version you get the sense things have been watered down a bit.

Take the ending: why do Americans love feeble, tick-a-box, emotional closures? The final scene is thoroughly unnecessary and simply not credible. It reduces the drama rather than heightens it.

Nevertheless see this movie. You don't have to have had a Catholic upbringing to enjoy it.

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