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Starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis
Screenplay by John Patrick Shanley based on his play
Directed by John Patrick Shanley

IN SHORT: Hard core acting -- Battle of the Oscar Winning all stars, perhaps?
[Rated PG-13. 104 minutes]

Very early in John Patrick Shanley's Doubt is a passing reference to the changes that rocked the Catholic church in the wake of something called Vatican II -- if Cranky sounds disingenuous it is because: a) we're a Member of the Tribes (that means Jewish) and all we know of Vatican II is that it allowed English masses and sort of dropped the insistence of the lie that my tribe killed their god. Or something like that.

What we did get out of watching Doubt is that those changes set off major rifts in the running of things like catholic schools and the responsibilities of nuns versus priests. That political in-house battle is at the center of Doubt, as is a sneaking suspicion of something not quite right in the make-up of the priest now in charge of St. Nicholas, a catholic parish in the Bronx borough of New York City.

The central part of the story masks a combination of Civil Rights, Women's Lib and a catholic corporate power struggle for control of the St. Nicholas school and the protection of the boys and girls within.  Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the priest in charge of the parish and it is his duties to bring modern ways to his world in the wake of Vatican II. His main adversary is the principal of the catholic school, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) a tight fisted believer that the old ways are the best.

The new ways include the admission of the school's first negro -- this is 1964, folks -- and student Donald Miller (Joseph Foster II) is receiving special attention from the good Father. When the suspicions of Sister James (Amy Adams), a young nun , come to the attention of Sister Beauvier, things hit the fan in a very malevolent, quiet and furious way.

Donald is a quiet boy. When the suspicions are brought to the attention of his mother (Viola Davis), she tells Sister Beauvier that she needs to get her son through June's graduation regardless of anything happening at the school, so that she can get her boy into a decent upper public school. Momms fears her son would be killed in public school; not necessarily by the kids but by the necessity of having to go home at night where his father regular beats both wife and kids. Here the film is unclear. Do the kids live at school (like a boarding school)? or are they only sent home in emergencies -- events involving a lot of blood pop up once or twice. As for the good Father's attention to the young Donald -- is it anything more than just concern for one minority student or is there some kind of man boy thing going on? Donald is accused of drinking sacramental wine and whether or not he was sneaking a sip or was sipped a mickey (so to speak) is something we'll leave unrevealed.

That's all we need say about the basic story of Doubt. The film's only failure is an attempt to mislead the audience, and pad the story, with a subplot about a nearly blind nun. Something to do with (it is implied) that once Sister Veronica loses her sight she'll be put out to the curb by the menfolk. The nuns, en masse, are protecting and misdirecting all around to protect the Sister.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Doubt, he would have paid . . .


Streep could get an Oscar nomination just for breathing. Our feeling is that, given the surprise of the very last line of dialog in the film, that this one will be more effective striking the lives of Catholic viewers. We're not trying to make light of (potential) abuse. The battle between Father and Sister was not properly joined, at least for us.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.