Based upon the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play by John Patrick Shanley (and Shanley adapted the film for the screen and directed), "Doubt" stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Brendan Flynn, a priest in 1960's who looks over his church. Also in power at the church is Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep), a hard, cold and old-fashioned (she doesn't even like ballpoint pens) nun whose general demeanor stands in contrast to the more progressive father's.
One day, a young and idealistic nun, Sister James (Amy Adams), notices that Father Brendan has taken Donald Miller (Joseph Foster II), the school's only African-American student, to the rectory alone. She also believes the boy had a smell of alcohol. Father Flynn had been encouraging the boy in sports, but when Sister Aloysius hears that there may be inappropriate behavior, she believes that the behavior was inappropriate and it is her chance to get Flynn out of the church.
Aloysius calls Flynn into office, where they begin to wind their way towards questioning Flynn about his behavior. When they finally start to question the Father more sharply, he begins to realize in horror what they are getting at. While Flynn denies any wrongdoing and Sister James believes that it was all a mistake, Aloysius - despite the fact that she has no proof - will not let up, convinced that the Father acted inappropriately. Or, as Sister James suggests, maybe she just doesn't like Father Flynn.
The movie follows the power struggle (or, better yet, cat-and-mouse game) between Aloysius and Flynn, with sister James in the middle. The film does not provide the answers to the conflict at the heart of the movie, but stands as a strong character study and a look at two exceptional actors playing characters in a bold power struggle. Streep gives a slow-boil performance, and Hoffman is one of the few actors who could have stood against Streep's forceful effort.
While this is a small, dialogue-driven film and still feels a bit like the play it was, the picture's performances allow it to maintain the tension of a thriller. Director Shanley (who, surprisingly, hasn't directed a film since 1990's unsuccessful - yet much beloved - "Joe Versus the Volcano") also paces the film particularly well, as the 103-minute running time moves surprisingly swiftly. The performances are remarkable, as both Hoffman and Streep offer riveting, powerful efforts. Amy Adams and Viola Davis (the latter plays Donald's mother) also provide good supporting efforts.
"Doubt" stands out as a tense mystery, fueled by award-worthy performances from Streep and Hoffman, who play off one another superbly.
VIDEO: "Doubt" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Miramax Home Entertainment. This is an excellent presentation of the film, doing justice to the terrific work of ace cinematographer Roger Deakins (most widely known for his work with the Coen Brothers.) Sharpness and detail are terrific, as the picture appeared mostly crisp and well-defined. Aside from a couple of instances of slight edge enhancement, the picture looked clean and smooth. Colors looked rather subdued, although warmer colors occasionally appeared. Black level looked solid, while flesh tones appeared natural.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is, as one would expect, a dialogue-driven effort. Aside from a few moments of thunder and some minor ambience, surrounds are - understandably - silent throughout the picture. Audio quality was fine, with clear, well-recorded dialogue.
EXTRAS: Director John Patrick Shanley provides an audio commentary for the film. He discusses some of his childhood stories that lead to the inspiration for some of the characters and events that occur in the picture. We also hear a good deal about filming on location, working with the actors, some behind-the-scenes stories and production obstacles. There are a few gaps of silence here-and-there, but this is otherwise an insightful and informative track.
"Sisters of Charity" is a featurette that discusses how Shanley interviewed a group of nuns to learn more about their lives before filming the movie. "The Cast of Doubt" is a Q & A discussion panel for EW with Dave Karger. "Scoring Doubt" is a short visit with composer Howard Shore, who gives a few insights into his inspirations working on the film's score. Finally, "Doubt: From Stage to Screen" is a promotional "making of" that leads viewers from information about the original play to adapting the picture for the screen and experiences during filming. While a few good insights and behind-the-scenes clips are offered, some of the information is overlap from the commentary and some of the interviews offer heaps of praise but not much more than that. Worth watching for fans, but not something that many are going to return to for more than one viewing. Also included are sneak peek trailers for other titles from the studio.
Final Thoughts: "Doubt" stands out as a tense mystery, fueled by award-worthy performances from Streep and Hoffman, who play off one another superbly. The DVD offers very good video quality, fine audio quality and a few fine extras. Recommended.
The Film B+