johnlink ranks DOUBT(2008)

Wow. What a year for film we had. Exceptional titles like SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, FROST/NIXON, THE WRESTLER, MILK, THE DARK KNIGHT, GRAN TORINO… and more I’m forgetting off the top of my head. It was an awesome series of solid dramatic pictures on a huge range of topics. One which I had not seen was DOUBT. With its Catholic school setting, I’d be lying if I said it was on the top of my list of must-sees. But it has Hoffman (which fifteen years ago would have meant Dustin, but now we all know exactly who I mean) and Streep. It’s as good or better than any of the other listed above. I’d probably throw it in above SLUMDOG, below THE WRESTLER, and right on par with MILK.


DOUBT is the story of a priest who is accused of immoral contact with a young boy and the nun who is out to prove he did it.

I watched DOUBT (2008) at movie night on 4.16.09. It was my first viewing of the film.



Looks and feels like an old time drama at times with the canted framing right out of THE THIRD MAN and some beautiful imagery out of titles such as THE 400 BLOWS. Writer/Director John Patrick Shanley gets  a little heavy-handed with the imagery at a couple points. For example, the weather sometimes had me rolling my eyes, though I think there is an easy explanation for that. The film is based on his play. And in the play you need to get across thunder storms and wind with actors reactions to them as much as with sound effects. In a play it is not real, not diagetic, unless a character references it. In the film, the wind followed by a line like “Some wind, huh?” just adds up to a little too much attention towards the symbolism inherent in the images. But I’m picking nits. Because most times in DOUBT, the filmmaking choices we get are excellent. My favorite moment comes during Hoffman’s first sermon. He is listing types of people. He mentions (and I might have this first one wrong) a woman who is lying to her husband (yeah I have the details wrong) and the screen shows a woman looking guilty. Then he talks about (and I know this is a right) a man who nobody knows has lost his last friend, and the screen shows a lonely man, looking sad. Now, if I might digress a moment, this is a great use of the Kuleshov effect. This was an early film experiment from either 1919 or 1920 (depending on who you ask) thought up by Lev Kuleshov. He carried out the experiments with Vsevolod I. Pudovkin who explains as such…

“Kuleshov and I made an interesting experiment. We took from some film or other several close-ups of the well-known Russian actor Mosjukhin. We chose closeups which were static, and which did not express any feeling at all–quiet close-ups. We joined these close-ups, which were all similar, with other bits of film in three different combinations. In the first combination the close-up of Mosjukhin was immediately followed by a shot of a plate of soup standing on a table. It was obvious and certain that Mosjukhin was looking at this soup. In the second combination the face of Mosjukhin was joined to shots showing a coffin in which lay a dead woman. In the third the close-up was followed by a shot of a little girl playing with a funny toy bear. When we showed the three combinations to an audience which had not been let into the secret the result was terrific. The public raved about the acting of the artist. They pointed out the heavy pensiveness of his mood over the forgotten soup, were touched and moved by the deep sorrow with which he looked on the dead woman, and admired the light, happy smile with which he surveyed the girl at play. But we knew that in all three cases the face was exactly the same.”

Anyway, in DOUBT those two actors were probably extras. It was the words spoken by Hoffman which makes us think they feel they way they do. But anyway, getting back to the movie. Hoffman next speaks about the films title, doubt. You expect to see another parishioner looking guilty. Instead we see Hoffman himself, speaking the words. The effect being that we see he is the person the film suggests best suits his words.  To me, this was a great understated film moment. SCORE: 8


Much more engaging than expected, and also a lot funnier. The nature of the story, not knowing what actually happend, builds tremendous suspense. The exemplary acting means that there are no wasted scenes. Everything builds to the great Hoffman/Streep face off which is what we all came to see. Because of the film’s ending, I’d love to see this again. Not one of those where you go “Oh shit!!!” and can’t believe what you just saw. Rather, it makes you think about the entirety of what you, as an audience member, witnessed. This is one of those movies which says as much about its audience as its characters. After seeing the film, ask yourself who’s side you are on, and who do you sympathize with? SCORE: 8


Top to bottom, exceptional work. Can’t imagine better work being done on any of these characters. Hoffman is probably one of the best couple actors working today. I can’t think of a complaint about him or Streep. Amy Adams doesn’t get the credit she deserves as young Sister James. I was glad to see veteran character actor (and RIC alum) Viola Davis get a best supporting Oscar nod for one of the best one-scene performances ever. For me, the most fun was seeing the “They’re little footballs” woman from ACE VENTURA playing an old nun going blind. But, I can’t say enough, that scene with Hoffman and Streep in her office was perfect. That could have gone on for an hour and a half and I would have been riveted throughout. SCORE: 10


Awesome stage-to-film adaptation. There are scenes which play as intimately as a play, but the film never feels like it is confined to a theater director’s more narrow scope (that is not a knock on theater directors, being one myself).  No wasted scenes, as I said above. You don’t get that payoff of what happened that every other script gives you. What a bold and awesome choice. I also loved the themes of racial intolerance. Subtle, yet real. Nothing is easy. These characters don’t do anything for sake of convenience of the story. Everybody is so fucking REAL. Man, I loved this film! SCORE: 9



8+8+10+9= 35


~ by johnlink00 on April 17, 2009.

2 Responses to “johnlink ranks DOUBT(2008)”

  1. Just watched this as well. I agree that the acting was 1st class. I disagree about the writing, however. While I also liked the choice of mystery over a plot twist, I felt like there could have been a lot more content to mull over. I was shocked when it was over because I felt like the movie was finally about to build up in some thought-provoking way. The final “doubt” from Streep’s character would have worked better with a weaker (unspecified) confession on Hoffman’s part in their final meeting…but we were never given a good reason for her to doubt her assumptions.

  2. I understand what you mean about the ending coming abruptly. However, I think that was thought provoking in its own way, though in a diferent way than if they had told you what happened.
    As for her final doubt… I heard someone else make a similar comment. I actually think that you might be misreading the moment. She says, a minute earlier, that she still feels she did the right thing, that he was guilty. I took that the doubt she had was about her faith, rather than her decision to go after him.
    She trusted God to show her the way. She fully believed that she was right. But the reult ended up being that he ended up being promoted. She was SURE she was right, and that he was wrong. Yet God (in her mind) chose to promote him to an even higher level of authority. My reading of the moment dictates that it was that turn of events which called her belief system into doubt.

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