Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Genre - Drama/Mystery
Year Released - 2008
Running Time - 104 minutes
Directed by John Patrick Shanley (who also directed Joe versus the Volcano)
Written by John Patrick Shanley (who also wrote Joe versus the Volcano)
*Based on the play written by John Patrick Shanley
Cast Includes:
Meryl Streep (The Deer Hunter, Sophie's Choice, Death Becomes Her, The Devil Wears Prada, Mama Mia)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, The Big Lebowski, Patch Adams, Almost Famous)
Amy Adams (Enchanted, Catch Me If You Can, and the upcoming Nights at the Museum 2)
Viola Davis (Disturbia and Nights in Rodanthe)

Rating: 5 Skulls

Plot Summary:
In a Catholic elementary school in the Bronx, Sister Aloysius begins to have doubts about one of the priests, Father Flynn, who seems to have become overly involved in the life of a young African American pupil. But Flynn isn't the only one she has doubts about. Is she overreacting to the situation or is there a truth that needs to be discovered?

My wife is the one who asked me to add this to our Netflix Queue, though I have been looking forward to its release [released on DVD today] ever since I saw the trailer for the film.

I gave Changeling top honors for the best drama of last year, knowing that this was the only other film that could possibly best it, and I still stand by original assessment - though if I were to base my statement solely on the acting, then it would be a much more difficult decision.

The tagline for this film is: There is no evidence. There are no witnesses. But for one, there is no doubt. A fitting tagline, I must say.

The film is set in 1964, at a Catholic school in the Bronx, where Sister Aloysius [Meryl Streep] is the head principal [she is referred to as "the dragon" due to her severe strictness.

The film begins with a sermon given by Father Flynn [Philip Seymour Hoffman] - the sermon's title is "What do you do when you're not sure?" In the sermon, Father Flynn discusses the previous year's assassination of President Kennedy and the despair and hopelessness of the nation. He talks about the crisis of faith and how certainty and doubt are both just as powerful as the other.

After hearing the sermon, Sister Aloysius questions the reasons behind that particular message. [is not the fact that it is a relevant topic not enough?] She informs her other 'Sisters' to be on the lookout for any strange behaviour that Father Flynn might portray.

One of the other Sisters - Sister James [Amy Adams] - a teacher in the school, reports to Sister Aloysius that Father Flynn seems to have taken an interest in one of the newer students - Donald Miller [the only black boy in his class] Sister James states that Donald came back from a meeting with Father Flynn acting strangely, and he seemed to have alcohol on his breath. . .

When Sisters Aloysius and James have a meeting with Father Flynn about the school's upcoming Christmas Pageant, we began to realize that Sister Aloysius just doesn't like Father Flynn [this becomes ever so apparent after Father Flynn talks about how the church must change and become more friendly to its parishioners and Sister Aloysius berates Father Flynn for this belief - while in the midst of this discussion, Father Flynn takes out a notebook and begins to jot something down - he tells Sister Aloysius that he is writing down an idea for a sermon on intolerance - brilliant!]

Soon enough, Sister Aloysius confronts Father Flynn with concerns about the relationship he seems to be forming with Donald Miller. Father Flynn asks Sister Aloysius to just leave it alone. . .

The next day, Father Flynn's sermon is on gossip :-)

I am going to leave it at that. Let me just say that everyone's performance in this movie was absolutely fantastic! Especially Philip Seymour Hoffman's! [I love Philip in everything that he does, even those films that I don't necessarily love - Punch Drunk Love, Synecdoche, New York - cough, cough] And of course, Meryl Streep was fantastic. Props also have to be given to Amy Adams as Sister James and Viola Davis as Donald's mother - excellent performances!

Here's the trailer:

Let me leave you with my wife's favorite line from the film, spoken by Father Flynn:

"It's an old tactic of cruel people to kill kindness in the name of virtue."



Anonymous said...

When I saw the trailer for this, I had only a vague understanding of what the plot itself was about, but I was intrigued enough that I wanted to see it. I still haven't seen it, and I kinda lost interest, but after reading this review my interested is peaked again. I must remember to check it out sometime soon, before I forget again.

wiec? said...

again Jason you've beaten my netflicks delivery to the punch. looking forward to this one. Hoffman is one of my favorites. Thanks for reminding me of Punch Drunk Love. I liked it if i remember right. Wasn't he the sleazy mattress salesman? Queuing that one too.

Wings said...

I have this one in my queue, so many to see. But your review has impressed the movie enough upon me that I am gonna go now and move it up. Thanks for another great review, Jason.

thebonebreaker said...

William, the film is worth it, solely for the acting alone!

wiec, I am not a big fan of Punch Drunk Love [one of those movies that I bought, before I saw it, and afterwards I thought - "it's not worth owning"
If you are a fan of Hoffman, then you will love his performance in Doubt!

Wings, so many to see indeed! :-)
It is always my pleasure to review movies to help others in their decisions on what to watch. . .


iMike said...

Told ya it was great! I too love Hoffman, he's amazing. And Streep is as well.

Phantom of Pulp said...

This is a great film, and thanks for the review, Jason.

I love the ambiguity of the screenplay.

thebonebreaker said...


You were indeed correct, and yes, Hoffman & Streep are both quintessential actors!

Phantom, I agree that the ambiguity of the screenplay is excellent!
[I wish that this film had been based on a true account, rather than being fiction, just so I would know exactly what had transpired, in the past] :-)


Film-Book dot Com said...

Great beginning but I was hoping for a little something more than just her saying: "I have doubt."

The storyline with the boy and his father was sad though. I felt sorry for the kid's mom as well.

thebonebreaker said...

I can understand that Film-Book. . .


wiec? said...

it was pretty good. everyone was really great in it. streep especially. the conversation that led to the gossip sermon was so well acted and written.

also it really felt like the time period too. you were right to end yer review where you did. all in all, good call.

thebonebreaker said...

Glad to hear that you enjoyed the film wiec!
Thanks for the feedback! :-)