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John Patrick Shanley
Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Alice Drummond, Audrie J. Neenan, Susan Blommaert, Carrie Preston
Writing Credits:
John Patrick Shanley (and play)

There is no evidence. There are no witnesses. But for one, there is no doubt.

From Miramax Films comes one of the most honored and acclaimed motion pictures of the year, Doubt. Based on the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play, Doubt is a mesmerizing, suspense-filled drama with four riveting performances from Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis that will have you pinned to the edge of your seat.

Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Streep), the rigid and fear-inspiring principal of the Saint Nicholas Church School, suffers an extreme dislike for the progressive and popular parish priest Father Flynn (Hoffman). Looking for wrongdoing in every corner, Sister Aloysius believes she's uncovered the ultimate sin when she hears Father Flynn has taken a special interest in a troubled boy. But without proof, the only thing certain is doubt.

Box Office:
$25 million.
Opening Weekend
$507.226 thousand on 15 screens.
Domestic Gross
$33.337 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Closed-captioned Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 103 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 4/7/2009

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director John Patrick Shanley
• “From Stage to Screen” Featurette
• “The Cast of Doubt” Featurette
• “Scoring Doubt” Featurette
• “The Sisters of Charity” Featurette
• Sneak Peeks


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Doubt (2008)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 8, 2009)

Funny how memory plays tricks at times. When 2008’s Doubt arrived on my desk, I remembered it as one of the year’s five Best Picture nominees. Nope. It received a nod for Best Adapted Screenplay, and it also got tons of acting love; four of its performers earned nods in that realm.

But Doubt came up empty in the Best Picture category, which may have been a shame, as the film proves more satisfying than some of the mediocrities that did get nominations. Doubt takes us to the Bronx circa 1964. We meet the folks who run the school at St. Nicholas Church, a group that includes Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) and Sister James (Amy Adams). Father Flynn is the new parish priest, while Sister Aloysius runs the school’s day to day operations – and does so with an iron hand.

Sister James teaches eighth grade and runs into a concern with one of her students. She notices that Donald Miller (Joseph Foster II) – the sole African-American student in the class – acts strangely after a private meeting with Father Flynn. Sister James brings this to the attention of Sister Aloysius, and the elder nun launches an investigation of the priest’s actions. We follow these events and their impact on both the church and those involved.

John Patrick Shanley adapts his own stage play for the screen with Doubt, and he does so in a mostly successful manner. At no point does the film ever become a dynamic cinematic affair, but that’s appropriate; if Shanley went to pains to make this a Big Screen Movie, then he’d betray the scope of the source material. In essence this is a small character drama, so a broad interpretation wouldn’t make sense.

Because the film stays focused on its characters, the actors come to the forefront, and all involved do well. Streep makes Sister Aloysius an interesting twist on the usual “Nunzilla”. It would be very easy to turn her into a stereotypical prudish, stern beast, but Streep veers away from that reading. Sure, we sense that Sister Aloysius is a force to reckon with, but Streep adds compassion and even mild humor to the part.

On the somewhat negative side, Sister Aloysius emerges as the only genuinely three-dimensional character in the bunch. Father Flynn is too slippery to really grasp, and Sister James acts more as a plot device than as a true character. To be sure, both actors do well in their roles, but neither gets a whole lot with which to work.

That’s because Doubt remains Sister Aloysius’s show, for better or for worse. Her investigation gives the film a good narrative thrust, and it allows for events to unfold in an interesting manner.

However, we see things so firmly from her point of view that the “doubt” indicated in the film’s title becomes minimized. I don’t want to say too much about the movie’s events because I like to avoid spoilers, but the story definitely left me with a strong impression of the “truth”. To the filmmakers’ credit, they never spell out what occurred between Father Flynn and Donald, and the reality of their situation clearly remains up for grabs. Is Father Flynn a perv who takes advantage of his young charges, or is Sister Aloysius just an uptight stick in the mud who resents the progressive change Father Flynn represents?

That’s a good post-movie discussion topic, but I think the flick leans too far in one direction. The ending opens up some question, but not enough, in my opinion; I come away with a clear interpretation of what happened between Donald and Father Flynn. I could be wrong, but I think the movie does lead us much more strongly down one path than another.

Despite that misstep and a few others such as some cheap metaphors, Doubt usually succeeds. It creates a dynamic character drama enlivened by stellar performances and its lack of excessive exposition. At 103 minutes, the movie also knows better than to overstay its welcome, so expect a tight, involving tale.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

Doubt appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The film came with a decent but unexceptional transfer.

Sharpness was generally fine. Some light edge enhancement created a little softness at times, as the haloes in wide shots made things a bit murky. Most of the time the movie offered good delineation, however. I noticed no jaggies or shimmering, and source flaws remained absent.

Colors tended to look acceptable. The movie featured a low-key “period” palette, within which the hues appeared reasonably concise. Blacks were dark and tight, while shadows were a little thick. Low-light shots showed acceptable delineation but could seem slightly dense. Overall, this was a “B-“ presentation.

To my surprise, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Doubt packed a little more punch than expected. Most of the movie focused on general ambience. The front and rears speakers added a decent sense of place, and a few louder elements like thunder and other storms occasionally added a little zest to the proceedings. Music also boasted nice stereo delineation. The film’s scope remained limited, so we didn’t get much to make the mix stand out from the crowd, but I heard more activity than I anticipated from a character drama of this sort.

Audio quality appeared fine. Speech showed good delineation and clarity, as the lines remained natural. Effects offered acceptable accuracy and life, and they appeared pretty powerful in the smattering of louder scenes. Music worked well, as the score seemed rich and full. Nothing here turned this into a great mix, but it deserved a “B”.

When he head to the disc’s extras, we open with an audio commentary from writer/director John Patrick Shanley. He provides a running, screen-specific look at story and character issues, Shanley’s childhood experiences and their influence on the film, cast and performances, sets and locations, camerawork and visual choices, and a few other production topics.

Shanley creates a thoroughly engaging discussion here. At the start, I worried he’d reminisce about his childhood to the exclusion of all else; those elements prove illuminating, but I hoped for a balance between that side of things and actual filmmaking subjects.

Happily, as the track progresses, Shanley grows more expansive when it comes to the flick’s creation. He gives us a lot of good tales about the movie; I especially like his reflections about working with the actors, as he throws out quite a few intriguing notes in that realm. Shanley creates a likable and informative chat that covers Doubt well.

Four featurettes follow. From Stage to Screen goes for 19 minutes, eight seconds and includes comments from Shanley, technical consultant Sister “James” Margaret McEntee, production designer David Gropman, and actors Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, and Amy Adams. We learn about the play’s origins and inspirations, the source material and its adaptation into a screenplay, shooting in New York, cast and performances.

Based on the featurette’s title, I expected more about the script and story here. We learn a little about those, but both subjects are covered much better in Shanley’s commentary. “Stage” offers a smattering of new details, but it mostly throws out happy talk about the production. It’s watchable but not especially informative.

During the 13-minute and 52-second The Cast of Doubt, we get a panel discussion conducted by Entertainment Weekly’s Dave Karger. He sits with Davis, Adams, Streep and Hoffman. They discuss thoughts about the original play, the characters and their performances, and interpretations of the story’s events. I like the context of the piece, as it’s cool to see all four of the actors chat together. Inevitably, there’s a fair amount of the standard general positivity, but the program digs pretty deeply at times, and the participants provide quite a few interesting notes.

Scoring Doubt fills four minutes, 39 seconds with notes from Shanley and composer Howard Shore. As expected, this show looks at the movie’s music. It’s too short to provide much depth, but it offers a few decent insights into the score.

Finally, The Sisters of Charity lasts six minutes, 29 seconds and features Shanley, Streep, McEntee, and nuns Sister Irene Fugazi, Sister Mary McCormick and Sister Rita King. We learn a bit about the nuns’ lives, and that gives us a nice perspective on their presentation in the movie.

A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for The Proposal, Blu-Ray Disc and Miramax Films. These also appear in the Sneak Peeks area. No trailer for Doubt shows up here.

Doubt makes a successful move from the stage to the big screen. The movie suffers from a few flaws, but it packs a good punch and keeps us involved. The DVD provides acceptable to good picture and audio as well as collection of extras highlighted by a terrific audio commentary. The flick definitely earns my recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2666 Stars Number of Votes: 15
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