Film Critic Michael Phillips Reviews the movie "Doubt"
One of the great climaxes in modern romantic comedy arrives at the end of "Moonstruck."
Remember the scene? Everyone's sitting around that luscious-looking Brooklyn brownstone kitchen, sorting out complications and revealing their true feelings, and then all issues become resolved, with a magical Shakespearean touch. The grandfather weeps. "I'm confused," he explains, getting what remains one of the biggest single laughs I've ever heard in a movie theater.
The sequence is stagy in the extreme, and you know what? No one cares.
The satisfactions of that scene are endless. Audiences are perfectly happy to watch characters interact in a room if the words are worth the trouble, and the actors energize what's underneath, and the director knows how to finesse it all.
John Patrick Shanley wrote "Moonstruck."
More recently John Patrick Shanley won a Pulitzer Prize for his most widely produced play to date, a beautifully constructed four-character drama called "Doubt," set in 1964 in a Catholic school in the Bronx.
Shanley has adapted, slightly expanded and directed his play for the screen, and while it helps to enjoy the old-school dramaturgy and knowing theatrical craftsmanship of the piece, I'm probably not alone in my surprise at how well the results work on screen. If more screen versions of plays had this kind of punch, we'd have fewer "Proof"s and more "Doubt"s.
You can diagram the combatants' roles.
Meryl Streep's Sister Aloysius represents fearsome law and dogmatic order. The world, in her eyes, is going to hell each new day the students at St. Nicholas are allowed to use ballpoint pens ("penmanship is dying all across this country"). Yet her single-mindedness is far from simple-minded.
Philip Seymour Hoffman's Father Flynn represents the new, Vatican II theology, looser and more companionable to the students.
Sister James, played by Amy Adams, is the lamb caught between two wolves, whose suspicion that Father Flynn may have entered into an improper or abusive relationship with a 12-year-old student -- the sole African-American in a sea of Irish and Italians -- provides "Doubt" with its narrative suspense.
Onstage, the material worked like Catholic gangbusters, evoking its time and place, mixing drama with Shanley's trademark verbal wit. The play was deceptive, however; without a first-rate performer in the role of Sister Aloysius (Cherry Jones, first among first-raters, originated the part), "Doubt" risked tipping into caricature, automatically cheapening its dramatic values, to say nothing of its moral questions.
While Streep has a tiny bit too much fun with some of her character's excesses, she's awfully good.
So is Hoffman, who walks a fine line between obvious guilt and possible innocence. So is Adams, whose naivete stays this side of the wrong kind of comedy. And in a key, wrenching scene, Viola Davis -- who plays the mother of the student at risk -- makes complicated emotional sense of a woman caught in an unwinnable, untenable position.
This is Shanley's second feature as director; the first, "Joe Versus the Volcano," has its defenders (not me). With "Doubt" he makes a few dubious visual choices to heighten the stakes in rather a cheap way: tilted, off-kilter framing; conveniently timed bursts of rain and thunder, coming down from the angry heavens. Fresh off the gleeful camping trip that was "Mamma Mia!" Streep cannot resist a certain portion of ham. Yet every scene in "Doubt," photographed in gorgeous, stern tones by the great Roger Deakins, feels finely calibrated. While it would be a mistake to make too much of it, the film -- full disclosure: I headed the Pulitzer drama jury the year the play won its Pulitzer -- suggests that as a director, Shanley has learned a lot since "Joe Versus the Volcano." We already knew he could write.
Doubt Movie Trailer
"Doubt" (5 Academy Award Oscar Nominations)
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for thematic material).
Running time: 1:44.
Starring: Meryl Streep (Sister Aloysius Beauvier); Philip Seymour Hoffman (Father Flynn); Amy Adams (Sister James); Viola Davis (Mrs. Miller).
Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, based on his play; photographed by Roger Deakins; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Howard Shore; production design by David Gropman; produced by Scott Rudin and Mark Roybal. A Miramax Films release.
"Slumdog Millionaire" Leads the Way
81st Academy Award Oscar Winners 2009
In much the same manner that the film captured the hearts of movie-goers, "Slumdog Millionaire" captured the hearts and votes of the Academy garnering 8 Oscars in total, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Sean Penn won his second Best Actor Academy Award for his role as Harvey Milk in the movie "Milk," while Kate Winslett won her first Oscar in the Best Actress category for he role as Hanna Schmitz in "The Reader."
Heath Ledger won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as the Joker in "The Dark Knight," posthumously. Ledger died on January 22, 2008 after an accidental drug overdose. Penelope Cruz won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Elena Maria in "Vicky Christina Barcelona."
"WALL-E" took home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature:
This year's top Academy Awards nominated film, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" with 13 Oscar nominations, won 3 Oscars (Achievement in Art Direction, Makeup & Visual Effects).
2009 OSCAR NOMINEES 81st Academy Awards
2009 Academy Award Oscar Winners
2009 Best Picture Oscar Nominations
2009 Best Animated Feature Oscar Nominations
2009 Best Lead Actress Oscar Nominations
- Anne Hathaway in "Rachel Getting Married"
- Angelina Jolie in "Changeling"
- Melissa Leo in "Frozen River"
- Meryl Streep in "Doubt"
- Kate Winslet in "The Reader"
2009 Best Lead Actor Oscar Nominations
- Richard Jenkins in "The Visitor"
- Frank Langella in "Frost/Nixon"
- Sean Penn in "Milk"
- Brad Pitt in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
- Mickey Rourke in "The Wrestler"
2009 Best Supporting Actress Oscar Nominations
- Amy Adams in "Doubt"
- Penélope Cruz in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
- Viola Davis in "Doubt"
- Taraji P. Henson in "Benjamin Button"
- Marisa Tomei in "The Wrestler"
2009 Best Supporting Actor Oscar Nominations
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