Doubt, one of 2008’s critically acclaimed films, is a film by John Patrick Shanley from his own play, starts off innocuously enough.
It starts with a few boys getting out of bed, some nuns shuffling from their chambers and one boy, in particular, trying to get to a church in the Priest’s chambers, whom is later revealed as an altar boy.
Yet, these opening minutes already tell the story of what’s to come. With the scenes cloaked in darkness and only slightly becoming light when reached to the pew, it hints at the films core question: If we believe those who are watching us, who’s truly watching those who is watching them?
The ever lasting question of “Who’s watching the watchmen?”
And it’s a story that, by its conclusion, offers no answers to give, more questions to ask, but not enough meat to the bone for those who really want to have a conversation to have it, since you don’t need the movie to present those questions to you before hand.
No, like almost all plays turned into movies, Doubt is a performance film. It lives, and it dies, on the performances of their actors.
And it shines as such, quite possibly one of the best movies with the best 4 actors in the past 15 years.
Viola Davis, in a five minute scene that didn’t really need to be added, shows pain and plight in a way that, like much of the film, shows shades of duplicitousness yet still can’t seem to bring the viewer to outright hate the character.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays the Priest in the film that may or may not have questionable morality, tip toes throughout the film skirting the line between caring and conniving. Yet, like few actors who can, still makes the character dynamic, likable and engaging, while we are trying to poke holes through the facade.
Amy Adams, who plays a young sister who is stuck in a standstill between two indomitable powers, provides the heart of the film. While being naive and much more emotional than the rest of the characters in film, she plays what could be a remarkably one-note character with a sense of gravitas that makes you cling to her humanity. Especially when she suddenly disappears during the last parts of the film.
The One Thing You Need To Know About Doubt (2008) before you watch it is this:
This film has one of the best Meryl Streep performances. Ever.
It’s just as easy to underrate Meryl Streep as it is to overrate.
The thing is, many want to claim she’s overrated because of bad movies (Mamma Mia!, Lions for Lambs, The Manchurian Candidate remake) rather than bad performances. Because, even when she is passable, she is usually more engaging that her other fellow actors.
And it’s not simply because she’s Meryl Streep.
No, it’s because whichever time you are watching her, you are not watching her. You are watching the character she portrays and that’s because little else, save for her looks (at times), do you ever realize you are watching Meryl Streep.
And Doubt has, in my mind, her best performance in a film.
Yes, many of you can argue Kramer vs. Kramer, The Deer Hunter, maybe even Devil Wears Prada and you would have a strong argument on those films.
But in Doubt, she is the rare actress that can do so little and yet command so much of the screen.
Streep doesn’t chew scenery or give a bombastic performance. No, she gives the intended performance that is needed plus give extra just by giving the character a breath of life that the script wasn’t giving her.
Few actresses can do what she does (Charilze Theron, Amy Adams, Viola Davis are only the ones I can think of right now): give the performance required, plus inflections and nuance when not saying a word.
Hell, I can only think of one actor who can do what she does today and that’s Michael Fassbender with his deeply engaging and entrancing eyes.
But, when you watch Doubt, you will see quite possibly the best performance from one of the best actors in the past 50 years.
That alone is worth the 100 minutes to watch this film. To say that the performances of Davis, Hoffman and Adams are just garnishes is just simply astounding.