Thursday, January 1, 2009

Doubting Doubts About Doubt

Based on the trailers and assorted promotions, I expected Doubt to be a showcase of overacting and cartoonish conflicts. I was pleased to find otherwise, but not so Manohla Dargis:

Mainstream moviemaking, with its commercial directives and slavish attachment to narrative codes, by contrast, isn’t particularly hospitable to ambiguity. It insists on clear parameters, tidy endings, easy answers and a world divided into heroes and villains, which may help explain why Mr. Shanley’s film feels caught between two mediums and why Ms. Streep appears to be in a Gothic horror thriller while everyone else looks and sounds closer to life or at least dramatic realism ... Her outsize performance has a whiff of burlesque, but she’s really just operating in a different register from the other actors, who are working in the more naturalistic vein of modern movie realism.
I might have agreed with this characterization of Meryl Streep's performance until a moment in the final half hour of the film, part of the scene in which Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Sister Aloysius (Streep) have their last confrontation in the school's principal's office. I don't have the particular lines to cite, and it would be a damnable spoiler if I did, but suffice to say the entire film turned on them, and if Meryl Streep does not get another Oscar for delivering them -- yes, another Oscar for Meryl Streep, I'm afraid -- then there's no justice in Hollywood. Which is not to suggest there's any justice in Hollywood.

In any case, the tension between worlds -- worlds that contain two different Catholic churches, two different kinds of clergy, two different forms of storytelling to convey those worlds (burlesque and realism if you wish), male and female, sacred and secular, doubt and uncertainty -- is very much the substance of Doubt. Everything in the film is paired by design. I'll say no more except to recommend it.

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