by Pa Rock
This year's Oscar wannabes have finally made it to Goodyear, Arizona. Two weeks ago I had to drive across Phoenix to see Slumdog Millionaire in toney Scottsdale. Last weekend I was able to catch Milk in the much more accessible community of Peoria. Last night I only had to drive a couple of blocks to my local Dickinson Palm Valley Theatre to complete the trifecta of the year's most talked about movies with a viewing of Doubt.
I approached Doubt with every intention of not liking it. As an ex-Catholic with my own doubt as to the relevance of the Church in the modern world, I expected to have all of my beliefs regarding the moral shortcomings of Catholicism validated - which, of course, they were. But the history of the Church aside, this is still one gripping tale.
Ninety percent of the plot was evident from the previews. The action is almost entirely verbal and revolves around two characters who deliver blistering dialogue that rattles the heavens and occasionally blows out light bulbs. Father Flynn, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, is a priest who may or may not have been taking advantage of a troubled black youth with sexual identity issues. Father Flynn is trying to bring his parish into the modern world, a course of action that sets him in direct opposition to the parish school's principal, the iron-willed Sister Aloysius, menacingly portrayed by Meryl Streep. Sister Aloysius controls her teachers and her students through raw fear. She is hell-bent on preventing change, even if it means destroying the priest and his alleged victim in the process.
This movie belongs to Meryl Streep. When she walks down the aisle during mass thumping and snarling at the children who aren't paying attention, it is as if the worst witch ever envisioned by the Brother's Grimm has slipped into a habit and is selecting which youngsters she will boil for supper. She is secure in her certainty that she alone knows what is best for her school and parish, and she is not restrained by ethics or her religion when she feels the need to act on her convictions.
There are two other standout performances. Amy Adams is the young teacher who knows that while fear may be used for control, it will never serve to motivate. She sees the good in people and becomes highly conflicted when the principal pulls her into her campaign to drive the priest from the parish. Viola Davis also gives a powerful portrayal of the mother of the child who may have been molested by the priest.
This tale originated as a stage play written by John Patrick Shanley. Shanley was given the task of writing the script for the movie, and then in a stroke of daring genius, he was also selected to direct his work for the screen. The result is a strong and tight production that is, of course, faithful to the playwright's highly original vision.
Doubt is an emotionally draining movie, a wicked hard ride through through the dark hell of child maltreatment at the hands of creepy priests and viscous nuns. It is tough to experience, but true life often is.