No ‘Doubt’ in this cast’s excellent performance

John Sturgeon

Set in the mid 1960s after Vatican II, “Doubt” is a wonderfully crafted drama exploring whether a priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) violated a young black child new to the parish’s school.

Based on a play with only four main characters, the movie is carried by the strength of its actors’ performances. Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Hoffman and Viola Davis all received Oscar nominations for their roles in this film.

The film begins with a look at how a Catholic school conducted itself in the mid-1960s.

Streep, as the tyrannical principal, Sister Aloysius, intimidates students by hitting them with a ruler when they misbehave and by having them sent to her office for discipline if they do anything wrong.

Uptight, passionate and unwavering, Sister Aloysius runs a tight ship as the head of the nuns.

In stark contrast, Hoffman plays Father Flynn, a man who enjoys a good time; dinner shows him drinking booze, laughing and listening to music.

As the gym teacher at the school, the students all think highly of him.

Hoffman does a great job playing a nice guy, while making the audience wonder why he spends so much time with young children.

Adams plays the innocent young nun, Sister James, with great believability; Sister Aloysius takes Adams’ character under her wing and shows her what it takes to be a successful nun and teacher.

With the progressive movement for change in the Catholic Church underway after Vatican II, the school accepts its first black student Donald Miller, who immediately takes a position as an altar boy at the church.

Father Flynn takes a liking to the boy, talking to him after Mass and presenting him with gifts.

One day during Sister James’ class, Father Flynn calls Miller to his office. The boy does not return to class that day, which prompts James to tell Sister Aloysius about her suspicions of what is occurring.

In a brilliant three-way scene, Father Flynn denies the allegations to the two sisters.

Watching how subservient the nuns are to the priest proves interesting, since it was clearly unheard of at that time for any nun to call a priest’s actions into question.

Sister Aloysius cannot let the topic go and sets up a meeting with Miller’s mother.

Davis shines as Miller’s mother in her lone scene with Streep, telling the sister about how different Miller is and the struggles he has faced.

This meeting sets up the climatic scene in which Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius face off.

One of the main reasons this film works so well is because of the body language its actors use.

The audience believes what they are feeling in any particular moment, since each of the four leads is fantastic at conveying emotion.

Streep gives a tremendous performance and definitely deserves the Academy Award.

Her scene with Hoffman at the end of the film is one of the most powerful pieces of film from last year.

Given problems the Catholic Church has had with its priests in recent years, the film proves topical and is well-worth seeing if you enjoy good dramas.