Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Review: Doubt

I find it ironic that in this, the happiest of seasons, it is hard to find a fun movie. By that I mean something beyond the silly insanity of Jim Carrey or Adam Sadler. or an animated "family" film. A movie that will amuse and touch you.

When looking at the listings, there is a preponderance of "serious" films. I realize that studios release these films right before the end of December, not for the box office business but to allow them to be considered for Academy Awards. So if you are a film buff, this is bonanza time. If you're a lover of movies, but not an NPR listener, it can be difficult to muster excitement for a trip to the multiplex.

Of all the serious, Oscar-buzz-worthy films out there right now, one I was most interested in seeing was "Doubt." Featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep, I knew this would be an acting tour-de-force, two incredible talents squaring off. And I wasn't disappointed in the result.

The story is this: in 1964, a hip priest is accused of "inappropriate" behavior with an altar boy, the accuser being the principal of the Catholic grade school. Sister Aloysius is convinced Father Flynn is guilty, and molds the "evidence" to make her case. Their confrontations are incredible - and you leave the theater full of doubts yourself. It could appear that he's guilty, and yet...

As I said, the acting is superb. Both lead actors are worthy of Oscar consideration - as is Amy Adams, the young nun who brings the initial charges. I went to Catholic school for my first three years, and Adams perfectly captures those innocent young nuns thrown into the classroom. My own teachers couldn't have been more than 19 or 20, fresh off the boat from Ireland. No wonder they often relied upon corporal punishment to control us - they had no other examples than the bitter older nuns - like Streep's Sister Aloysius.

I love the contrast that's shown between the lives of the priests and nuns. The priests sit around the rectory, being served a steak dinner and sucking down scotch, while the nuns are eating 3rd rate beef with a glass of milk. The women have no power - when the sisters have their suspicions about Father Flynn, they have no one to turn to - they require a sympathetic male to champion their cause. Personally, I think this kind of hypocrisy is why you see so few nuns these days!

I really enjoyed this film - I wasn't depressed or upset, as I suspected I might be. The director/writer perfectly captures those crazy pre-Vatican II days - when it became obvious that the Church need to make changes, even if it irked some of the older conservative elements. It's amazing to see the layered habits the nuns wore, which I remember so distinctly. Or to see how priests and nuns were nearly forbidden to mingle.

Fantastic performances, a serious thought-provoking story.

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