Doubt (2008 film)

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Doubt
Doubtposter08.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Patrick Shanley
Produced byScott Rudin
Screenplay byJohn Patrick Shanley
Based onDoubt: A Parable
by John Patrick Shanley
Starring
Music byHoward Shore
CinematographyRoger Deakins
Edited byDylan Tichenor
Production
companies
Distributed byWalt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Release date
  • October 30, 2008 (2008-10-30) (AFI Fest)
  • December 12, 2008 (2008-12-12) (United States)
Running time
104 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$20 million
Box office$50.9 million[2]

Doubt is a 2008 American drama film written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony Award-winning 2004 stage play Doubt: A Parable. Produced by Scott Rudin, the film takes place in a Roman Catholic elementary school named for St. Nicholas led by Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep). Sister James (Amy Adams) tells Aloysius that Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) might be paying too much attention to the school's only black student, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster), thus leading to Aloysius investigating Flynn's behaviour. The film also features Viola Davis as Donald Miller's mother, Mrs. Miller.

The film premiered October 30, 2008, at the AFI Fest before being distributed by Miramax Films in limited release on December 12 and in wide release on December 25. Grossing $50.9 million against a budget of $20 million, the film received largely positive reviews from critics. Streep, Hoffman, Adams, and Davis were heavily praised for their performances, and all were nominated for Oscars at the 81st Academy Awards. Shanley was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Plot[edit]

In 1964 at a Catholic church in The Bronx, New York, progressive priest Father Brendan Flynn gives a homily on the nature of doubt, noting that, like faith, it can be an unifying force. Sister Aloysius, the strict conservative principal of the church's parish school, becomes concerned when she sees a boy pull away from Flynn in the school courtyard. She instructs her Sisters to be alert to suspicious activity in the school.

Sister James, a young and naive teacher, receives a request for Donald Miller, an altar boy and the school's only African-American student, to meet Flynn in the rectory. Donald returns to class visibly upset, and James notices the smell of alcohol on his breath. Later, she sees Flynn placing an undershirt in Donald's locker. She reports her suspicions to Aloysius, but states that such suspicions disquiet her faith. Aloysius reassures her that, "When you take a step to address wrongdoing, you are taking a step away from God, but in His service."

Seeking to learn more, Aloysius and James invite Flynn into the office under the guise of wanting to discuss the school's Christmas pageant. During their discussion about the pageant, Aloysius and Flynn pointedly express drastically different perspectives on how the church should function with regard to the working class: Flynn believes the church should relate to their parishioners more actively through shared interests and secular community activities, while Aloysius believes that the boundaries set by the clergy as distinct and different in their religious roles facilitates the relationship with the parishioners. Sister James is more open to Flynn's opinion, that the church needs to adapt to the changing times, to allow the children to connect with them.

Eventually, Aloysius brings up Donald Miller, noting that he is the only Black child in the school, and risks being singled out. She states that even Flynn himself singled Donald out for special treatment, like the private meeting the two had last week. Flynn becomes defensive over Aloysius's insinuations and eventually reveals that he called Donald to the rectory to talk to him because he had been caught drinking Sacramental wine, which resulted in Donald being upset. Flynn claims he had been keeping it quiet to protect Donald, but now that Aloysius has forced it out, Donald must be removed as an altar boy. James is greatly relieved to hear the explanation. Flynn pointedly delivers his next homily on the evils of gossip.

Still unconvinced, Aloysius meets with Donald's mother regarding her suspicions. Though Aloysius describes the potential abusive relationship between Donald and Flynn, she is shocked by Mrs. Miller's seeming ambivalence to the possibility. Finally, Mrs. Miller tearfully intimates that she knows Donald is gay, and she fears that his physically abusive homophobic father would kill him if he knew anything happened with Flynn. She describes the difficult position she is faced with: unable to protect her son from his father's violence, recognizing that Flynn may be sexually abusing Donald, but also seeing that he is the only male figure who has shown Donald any kindness, and whose position at the school shields him from bullies, and ultimately fearing that leaving the school now would compromise the better socioeconomic future the school can give Donald. She begs Aloysius to solve the situation by getting Flynn removed, rather than removing Donald, but Aloysius is uncertain of what she can do, given Flynn's entrenched position within the patriarchal senior clergy.

Knowing she has spoken with Donald's mother, Father Flynn threatens to remove Aloysius from her position if she does not back down. Aloysius informs him that she contacted a nun from the last parish he was assigned to, discovering a history of past infringements, corroborating her suspicions. He demands to know what proof she has, and she admits that all she has is her certainty that Flynn has engaged in wrongdoing. Flynn accuses her of insubordination and acting outside her duties. She threatens to visit his other previous appointments and locate parents willing to talk, asserting that she will do whatever it takes to force him out, even if it means being thrown out of the church herself.

Declaring his innocence, Flynn begins to plead with her, asking her if she herself has never committed a mortal sin. Aloysius rejects his claims of equivalence and innocence, and threatens to blackmail him if he will not resign immediately. Flynn acknowledges that his downfall would be inevitable should he ignore her threats. Though he states he cannot fully share everything that happened, he maintains he did nothing wrong, and that Aloysius's own certainty of wrongdoing is fallible. Aloysius demands that Flynn request a transfer. He tells her doing so will leave him with nothing, but she responds that it was Donald who has nothing, and Flynn took advantage of that. Flynn requests the transfer and delivers a final homily before departing.

Some time later, Aloysius tells James that Flynn has since been appointed to a more prestigious position at a larger church. She reveals that contacting a nun at Flynn's former parish was a lie, reasoning that if he did not have such a history, the ruse would not have worked. She views his resignation as proof of his guilt. Though James, who still believes in Flynn's innocence, is shocked by her lie, Aloysius restates that, "In the pursuit of wrongdoing, one steps away from God," but adds that doing so comes with a price. She then breaks down, tearfully exclaiming, "I have doubts...I have such doubts!"

Cast[edit]

The starring cast of Doubt. From top to bottom: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis

The other sisters in the film include, Alice Drummond as Sister Veronica, Audrie J. Neenan as Sister Raymond, and Helen Stenborg as Sister Teresa. The child actors who played the students of the school include Mike Roukis as William London, Frank Shanley as Kevin, Frank Dolce as Ralph, Paulie Litt as Tommy Conroy, Matthew Marvin as Raymond, Bridget Clark as Noreen Horan, Molly Chiffer and Sarah, and Lydia Jordan as Alice. The actors who played the other staff of the school include, Susan Blommaert as Mrs. Carson, Carrie Preston as Christine Hurley, John Costelloe as Warren Hurley, Margery Beddow as Mrs. Shields, Marylouise Burke as Mrs. Deakins, and Jack O'Connell as Mr. McGuinn.

Production[edit]

Production began on December 1, 2007.[3] The film, which concentrates on a Bronx Catholic school, was filmed in various areas of the Bronx, including Parkchester, St. Anthony's Catholic School, and the College of Mount Saint Vincent, as well as Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.[4] The "garden" exterior scenes were shot at the historic Episcopal Church St. Luke in the Fields on Hudson Street in New York's Greenwich Village. The associated St. Luke's School was also heavily featured. The film is dedicated to Sister Margaret McEntee, a Sister of Charity who was Shanley's first-grade teacher and who served as a technical adviser for the movie, after whom Shanley modeled the character of Sister James.

Reception[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an 79% approval rating based on 220 reviews, with an average rating of 6.99/10. The site's consensus reads, "Doubt succeeds on the strength of its top-notch cast, who successfully guide the film through the occasional narrative lull."[5] Another review aggregator, Metacritic, gave the film a 68/100 approval rating based on 36 reviews.[6] Critic Manohla Dargis of The New York Times concluded that "the air is thick with paranoia in Doubt, but nowhere as thick, juicy, sustained or sustaining as Meryl Streep's performance."[7] Meryl Streep's performance as the stern, intimidating and bold principal Sister Aloysius Beauvier was praised, as were Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams's performances.

Viola Davis's performance as Mrs. Miller was praised by critics; Salon magazine declared that the character was acted with "a near-miraculous level of believability ... Davis, in her small, one-scene role, is incredibly moving—I can barely remember a Davis performance where I haven't been moved ... [she] plays her character, an anxious, hardworking woman who's just trying to hold her life and family together, by holding everything close. She's not a fountain of emotion, dispensing broad expression or movement; instead, she keeps it all inside and lets us in".[8]

National Public Radio called Davis's acting in the movie "the film's most wrenching performance ... the other [actors] argue strenuously and occasionally even eloquently, to ever-diminishing effect; Davis speaks plainly and quietly, and leaves [no] doubt that the moral high ground is a treacherous place to occupy in the real world".[9]

Roger Ebert, who thought Davis's performance worthy of an Academy Award, gave the film four stars, his highest rating, and praised its "exact and merciless writing, powerful performances and timeless relevance. It causes us to start thinking with the first shot", he continued, "and we never stop".[10] Ebert goes on to say, "The conflict between Aloysius and Flynn is the conflict between old and new, between status and change, between infallibility and uncertainty. And Shanley leaves us doubting."[11]

The film and the cast earned numerous awards and nominations including five Academy Award nominations: for Best Actress for Streep, Best Supporting Actor for Hoffman, Best Supporting Actress for both Adams and Davis, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Shanley.

The scholar Daniel Cutrara, in his book on sex and religion in cinema, commented that the film works as a metaphor for worldwide uncertainty over priests accused of pedophilia—specifically through Father Flynn's resignation as an indication of guilt and then Sister Aloysius's subsequent doubt.[12]

Awards[edit]

Doubt received five Academy Awards nominations on January 22, 2009, for its four lead actors and for Shanley's script. It was the fourth film to date—following My Man Godfrey (1936), I Remember Mama (1948), and Othello (1965)—to receive four acting nominations without being nominated for Best Picture.

Award Category Recipient(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Actress Meryl Streep Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Amy Adams Nominated
Viola Davis Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay John Patrick Shanley Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Leading Actress Meryl Streep Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Amy Adams Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Meryl Streep Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Amy Adams Nominated
Viola Davis Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay John Patrick Shanley Nominated
Critics' Choice Awards Best Picture Doubt Nominated
Best Actress Meryl Streep Won
Best Supporting Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Viola Davis Nominated
Best Acting Ensemble Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep Nominated
Best Writer John Patrick Shanley Nominated
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actress Viola Davis Won
Detroit Film Critics Society Awards Best Actress Meryl Streep Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Amy Adams Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Meryl Streep Nominated
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture Philip Seymour Hoffman Nominated
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture Amy Adams Nominated
Viola Davis Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture John Patrick Shanley Nominated
Houston Film Critics Society Awards Best Supporting Actress Viola Davis Won
Best Cast Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep Won
National Board of Review Awards Breakthrough Performance by an Actress Viola Davis Won
Best Cast Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep Won
Palm Springs International Film Festival Spotlight Award Amy Adams Won
Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards Best Actress Meryl Streep Won
Satellite Awards Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Meryl Streep Nominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Philip Seymour Hoffman Nominated
Best Screenplay – Adapted John Patrick Shanley Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role Meryl Streep Won
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role Philip Seymour Hoffman Nominated
Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role Amy Adams Nominated
Viola Davis Nominated
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep Nominated
St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actress Amy Adams Nominated
Viola Davis Won
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards Best Actress Meryl Streep Won
Best Cast Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep Won

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Doubt (15)". British Board of Film Classification. December 18, 2008. Retrieved October 4, 2016.
  2. ^ "Doubt". Box Office Mojo. January 4, 2009. Retrieved October 7, 2011.
  3. ^ Pincus-Roth, Zachary (April 19, 2007). "Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman to Star in Doubt Film". Playbill. Archived from the original on April 27, 2007. Retrieved February 7, 2008.
  4. ^ "The benefit of the 'Doubt'". Daily News (New York). February 5, 2008. Retrieved February 7, 2008.
  5. ^ "Doubt – Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  6. ^ "Doubt (2008):Reviews". Metacritic. December 30, 2008. Retrieved December 30, 2008.
  7. ^ The New York Times Movie Review of Doubt, Dec 12, 2008
  8. ^ Madden, Mike (December 12, 2008). "Stephanie Zacharek". Salon.com. Retrieved April 27, 2010.
  9. ^ "Viola Davis Tackles Fear, Shines In 'Doubt'". NPR. December 10, 2008. Retrieved April 27, 2010.
  10. ^ Ebert review
  11. ^ "Doubt", Roger Ebert.com
  12. ^ Cutrara, Daniel S. (March 15, 2014). Wicked Cinema: Sex and Religion on Screen. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-75472-0.

External links[edit]