Review: Doubt (2008)

Doubt (2008)

Directed by: John Patrick Shanley | 104 minutes | drama | Actors: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Alice Drummond, Audrie J. Neenan, Susan Blommaert, Carrie Preston, John Costelloe, Lloyd Clay Brown, Joseph Foster, Bridget Megan Clark, Mike Roukis, Haklar Dezso, Frank Shanley, Robert Ridgell, Paulie Litt, Frank Dolce, Matthew Marvin, Molly Chiffer, Lydia Jordan, Suzanne Hevner, Helen Stenborg, Tom Toner, Michael Puzzo, Margery Beddow, Jack O’Connell, Marylouise Burke

Whoever reads the plot description of the American film ‘Doubt’ will not doubt the subject: abuse within the Catholic Church. Not surprising when you consider that the film was made in an era when the American branch of this church is almost succumbing to the sexual scandals. Altar boys and young believers have been widely abused for decades, as we learned in the heartbreaking documentary Deliver Us from Evil.

Yet ‘Doubt’ is not particularly concerned with these misdeeds. Although sex and religion play a role, ‘Doubt’ mainly deals with questions of a more general nature. To what extent are perceptions influenced by prejudice? How does an absolute belief cope with the complexity of life? What to do when strict rules clash with principles of humanity?

Doubt never comes up with interesting answers to these interesting questions. The verbal battle between prosecutor Sister Aloysius and suspect Father Flynn yields no surprising insights, and the characters’ points of view are as old as life itself.

The film isn’t really compelling either. The main stumbling block are the stereotypical characters: the warm-blooded priest, the embittered nun, her naive young colleague. Because these characters have too few individual traits, the viewer can hardly identify with them. The fact that the dialogues are sometimes a bit theatrical – ‘Doubt’ is originally a play – further increases the distance between character and viewer.

The satisfactory score that ‘Doubt’ nevertheless scores is mainly due to the craftsmanship. Streep and Hoffman act at a very high level, Adams and Davis also do very well, although Adams could have been less pathetic. Visually, ‘Doubt’ is also worth seeing, with beautiful atmospheric images of The Bronx in 1964. Although the film never goes into depth, the story itself always manages to captivate. As the more philosophical questions pass you by, one question remains throughout the film: Did Father Flynn do it or didn’t he? That question alone will keep you captivated until the very end.

Although ‘Doubt’ is not a masterpiece, it takes no effort at all to sit through the film. Young film buffs may give up prematurely, older viewers will have a great time with it. Still, it’s a shame that the depth and immersiveness you expect in advance are never realized. Professional and entertaining, but that’s about it.

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