Monday, February 2, 2009

From Stage to Screen

I'm just going to put it out there right here at the beginning. Doubt would not have been a good movie if it weren't for Meryl Streep, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and especially Viola Davis. The story is a bit lacking, but these four actors make it compelling and--at times--fascinating to watch.

Adapted from his stageplay of the same name, director/writer John Patrick Shanley's Doubt is set in the Bronx at St. Nicholas Catholic school in 1964. The forward-thinking Father Flynn (Hoffman) is trying to bring the school out of its old, strict customs. Standing in his way is the fearsome school principal Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Streep) who rules the school like any mean-spirited nun in a traditional Catholic school. But, as it is the sixties, change is apparent, and the school has just accepted its first black student, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster II).

The sweet and loving Sister James (Adams), sees that Father Flynn is paying a tad too much attention to young Donald, and she shares her fears with Sister Aloysius. Without any solid proof but her own faith, Sister Aloysius sets off on a personal crusade to find the truth and remove Flynn from the school.

You can tell from the way the film was shot that Shanley did his film homework. With the canted angles and long reaction shots, Doubt looks much like a classic Hitchcock with less shadows. But I guess when the only other movie you've directed is Joe Versus the Volcano, you probably need a little brush up. For some scenes, the shots worked, but there were others that completely took me out of the movie. This could be just me and all the other film students out there, so I'm sorry if I've now ruined it for you.

Camera work aside, the acting--as I've already said--is absolutely wonderful. I mean, there is no question that Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman are some of the top players in their game, but Viola Davis. Holy crap. Her scene with Meryl Streep outside on the sidewalk had me glued to the screen. When Tim & I went to see it, the theatre was freezing, but for those few minutes I forgot I was cold. I forgot Tim was sitting next to me. She is only on the screen for 12 minutes, but I was completely enthralled.

Amy Adams is good too, but she's not nearly as good as her co-stars. Which, for a movie like this, isn't too shabby. She plays Sister James like the nun version of her character in Enchanted (thank you, Kate, for that one). She's timid, naive, and kind and hopes for the best in everyone. Every time someone steered her one way or the other, I felt she knew she was being manipulated but just didn't care to ruffle any feathers over it.

Being the film fanatic I am, I suggest seeing this movie in theatres just so you can cheer for Viola Davis when she wins her Oscar...or be thoroughly disappointed when she loses to Marisa Tomei. But you're not all crazy about movies like I am, and Doubt is the perfect movie for watching on your TV at home. It's low-key, actor-driven, and still holding on to its stageplay roots.

1 comment:

Amy said...

I agree with everything that you just said. On its face the premise seems a bit gimmicky, I didn't know how they could actually get 90+ minutes of material out of this concept. But you're right, it's the acting that pulls it all together. And Viola Davis just became a cinema god in my eyes. Her scene made the movie for me. How many other actresses could totally own the screen when they are sharing it with Meryl Streep? I honestly don't know how this one missed a best picture nom.

(Although, the director needs to learn that dutch angles have no place outside horror movies...)