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    Review: Doubt is Without Question the Best Movie I Saw in 2008


    It seems somewhat unnecessary to rave about a Meryl Streep performance. Ditto with Philip Seymour Hoffman. But in Doubt, they’ve both turned in flawless performances that left me with my jaw on the floor. The two screen giants are joined by Amy Adams. I’ve never seen Adams in a dramatic role before and I was impressed. In Doubt she more than holds her own.

    The film is set in 1964 at St. Nicholas Catholic school and parish in the Bronx. It opens with Father Flynn, played by Hoffman, delivering a sermon on doubt. He weaves in a reference to JFK’s assassination, so we can get a feel for what decade we’re in, and then he preaches that everyone has doubts, and it is our doubts that bond us together. He doesn’t elaborate much into those doubts but it’s clear he’s not just talking about faith.

    And with that, the movie is off. Streep plays Sister Aloysius, the overly-strict principal of St. Nicholas school. Sister Aloysius is the kind of nun that non-Catholics like me imagine when hearing stories about the old-school sisters. She roams the aisles during the church service, giving hard looks and harder smacks to any child not paying appropriate attention. And when she enters the classroom to observe Adams as Sister James, the entire theater tenses, along with Sister James and her students.

    In the eyes of Sister Aloysius, Father Flynn is too chummy with the students and their churchgoing parents. In Father Flynn’s opinion, Sister Aloysius is stuck in the past and needs to change the way she relates to keep up with rapidly changing times. Sister James is stuck in the middle, trying to be a good nun but temperamentally unable to be as cruel to the students as Sister Aloysius seems to demand.

    In what is probably the best performance of the movie, Viola Davis appears in one scene as Mrs. Miller, the mother of the school’s first African American student, Donald, who has developed an uncomfortably close relationship with Father Flynn.

    There are no fancy costumes in Doubt, no special effects, and the setting is pure grit, as one would expect of the Bronx in 1964, where the predominantly working-class and Irish families send their children to St. Nicholas for a spare-the-rod education. But the tension in the faces of the actors leaves you on the edge of your seat throughout. Watchers of Doubt are not just witnesses as the plot unfolds, but participants, first certain that they know what is happening, and then doubting everything they think they know.

    If you are still trying to decide which movie to see this weekend, pick Doubt. You won’t be disappointed.

    Orlando’s rating: ♀♀♀♀


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