It’s funny that I should feel so ambivalent about a film called Doubt. It’s finely made, has some good performances and it is sure to be nominated for several awards. It’s also a bit phony and off-putting. I’m not talking about the subject matter or anything, but rather the presentation and execution of the material. It also belongs in the film sub-genre I lovingly call “Oscar Bait,” you know, movies that exist for no other reason but to win Oscars.

The film is written and directed by Oscar winning writer John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck), who also wrote the play Doubt (which won a Pulitzer). It’s about a catholic school in the 60s that is shook by scandal. The film is basically about a nun who declares war on a priest, and whether or not the priest had an inappropriate relationship with a young boy. Whether or not the priest did something with the boy or not, the film argues, as soon as he is doubted, he is doomed.

A major problem with the film is that one of the characters who is most crucial to the story (that of Donald, the young boy, played by Joseph Foster) is a secondary character in the film. Donald is the main focal point of the story, yet is character is not given hardly any focus or scenes of great interest. I don’t know if Shanley did this to make his character’s relationship with Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) more ambiguous or what, but the lack of attention paid to the character of Donald is a huge flaw.

I think Philip Seymour Hoffman was incredible in this film, he definitely creates a feeling of both sympathy and uneasiness in the viewer. It’s a completely convincing, devastating performance. Amy Adams, who plays Sister James, is well cast, even though she’s at best a wishy-washy type of character. As I write this review, I realize how little I appreciated Shanley’s script. I think he’s a good screenwriter (obviously Moonstruck and Joe Versus the Volcano are two brilliant screenplays), but I was less than impressed with several elements to the story.

I am also torn in regards to Meryl Streep’s performance as Sister Aloysius. Some of it is brilliant, savage and compelling, other scenes seem like grotesque parody. Her accent, like bad Streisand, comes and goes. Streep is one of the best performers in film, but I feel like she dropped the ball here. There’s no way she doesn’t get an Oscar nod, though.

Viola Davis gives a great supporting turn as Donald’s mother in an unnecessary scene. Ok, I felt like it was unnecessary, though I’ve read many reviews that feel it’s the key sequence to the film. It’s wonderfully performed by Davis and Streep, but in the context of the story, it doesn’t make much sense.

Doubt seems to me like a mediocre film dressed up and presented like it’s a work of art. I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it.

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