2008 // USA // John Patrick Shanley // December 27, 2008 // Theatrical Print
C - The appeal of Doubt is that of a slick, addictive puzzle. Shrugging off the more undemanding prospects within a tale of (maybe) Catholic pedophilia, John Patrick Shanley's adaptation of his play creates something perplexing and remarkably vast within the fine grains of gestures and dialog, self-consciously provoking water-cooler mulling of the film's legion of possibilities. Shanley's disciplined and occasionally too-clever-by-half commitment to narrative ambiguity is Doubt's selling point and its most irksome flaw. Ultimately, the film is a knickknack engineered to spark conversation, or at best a Rorschach test that will coax the viewer's prejudices to the surface like so much greasy film. It's ingenious in its way, but not really a film achievement, especially given Shanley's preference for a decidedly flat theatrical presentation with the odd bit of visual punctuation. (Count the Dutch angle shots!) However, even a miscast Philip Seymour Hoffman rarely distracts from Doubt's main attraction: a fierce, invigorating Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius, whose withering glares and surprising vulnerability lend the film both a vividness and a dose of needed thematic depth. The veteran's actress's casual ease with such a contradictory protagonist bestows on Doubt its most fascinating tensions, particularly between vigilance and bigotry.