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Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Doubt (2008)

Despite London being ridiculously "snowbound", I have managed to attend another preview for a heavily-praised movie which is about to open and which has garnered no less than four academy award acting nominations for its four main roles (Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis). The film is directed and written by John Patrick Shanley (also up for a writing award) based on his own stage play and while it is somewhat opened out, it remains a fairly stagey, talky four-hander. In fact it is really not much of a cinematic outing since the few non-verbal images -- feathers filling the air (like irretrievable rumours) and heavy winds -- seem rather forced in the hothouse atmosphere of a Catholic school in the Bronx back in 1964 and the remaining cast with the exception of the school's only black student are ciphers.

However it is the acting which makes the movie. Streep -- whom at one stage in her early career I could barely tolerate -- is remarkable as a nun and the martinet principal who suspects the greatly loved priest Hoffman of abusing the student. Variety was a little dismissive of her performance, comparing her unfavourably with the actress in the stage production and accusing her of underplaying the role. Not having seen the original I can only admire her every vocal inflection and every grimace in her pursuit of bringing him down. One never knows for certain whether Hoffman is guilty as charged, but he too manages to convey a range of emotions by the simplest glances (and I would not have considered his a supporting role as nominated, as his presence is far too important). Adams as the chirpy young nun who wants to think the best of everyone is also something of a revelation given her previous flighty roles. However it is Davis as the boy's mother who manages to convey real feeling and humanity in her brief scene with Streep. Unfortunately I suspect that none of these actors will receive Oscars this year, although Streep richly deserves another. The film manages to convey a wealth of ideas about gossip, narrowmindedness, fear, malevolence, and of course doubt, but none of these would be as forceful were it not for the splendid cast.
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