Thursday, December 18, 2008

I have my certainty about "Doubt"

As part of my effort to burn off as many vacation days as I could so that I don't lose them, I went over to San Francisco to see how festive the downtown area looks during the holiday season. This picture says it all....

Then, I went to the multiplex at the San Francisco Center to see a movie that won't be in Sacramento until after Christmas. I chose Doubt, which seems to be a front-runner for glory at next year's Academy Awards. I can say the cast brought its "A" game in this story about suspicion, jealousy, righteousness, and faith at a Catholic high school in the Bronx in 1964. The school's principal, Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), is very strict, and unforgiving of anyone who doesn't follow her example. Such secular things like the Bossa Nova or Frosty the Snowman have no place in her school.
She suspects the local priest, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffmann), of an inappropriate relationship with Donald Muller, the only Aftican-American student there. The suspicions start, however, because of something Sister James (Amy Adams), a younger nun who teaches history, thinks she sees something wrong.

But is she right, and does it matter? Not to Sister Aloysius, who is determined to prove Father Flynn has done something wrong. She thinks she has her true faith on her side, and that is enough. Father Flynn, who is more progressive, insists he hasn't done anything wrong. Still, there are a few things, like the fact Donald was found with papal wine on his breath after visiting Father Flynn in his office. There's also the fact Flynn has been in three parishes in five years. That must mean something....

The performances by Streep, Adams, and Hoffman really make this movie go. The scene where Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn have their first confrontation in her office is a great example of how she tries to control the situation. They play off each other while Sister James is stuck in the middle. Adams is heartbreaking as the young nun who may wonder what she has started. It's been mentioned Natalie Portman was considered as Sister James, but declined. Adams, who was a sensation as Giselle in Enchanted last year, makes this role her own, as she's able to hold her own with Hoffman and Streep.

The movie also points out how different the male and female worlds within the Catholic Church, and how that may be a factor in Sister Aloysius' suspicions. The nuns, most of them elderly, eat quietly in their plain lifestyle. When we see Father Flynn have his dinner, it's with other priests, and it's loud and boisterous. It's also made clear that while Sister Aloysius is the principal, Father Flynn is the boss.

Another scene that will really break your heart involves Viola Davis as Donald's mom, Mrs. Mullar. While they discuss what Father Flynn may or may not have done, Mrs. Muller is more concerned that her son stay in the school. Just look at Viola's emotion and concern on her face, and you can see it's real. Just hear her response to Sister Aloysius' suspicions, and it will stun you. Viola's performance in that one scene has many predicting an Oscar for her. While some people may say her appearance is too brief, tell that to Beatrice Straight or Judi Dench, who have won Oscars with a brief yet effective appearance.

When I was at the theater, I heard a few people laugh at some of Streep's lines. I was a bit surprised, but I think it shows Sister Aloysius can be funny, and an very dry way, but they were quiet when she had her final battle. I think Streep has a good chance of getting her third Oscar. This actress has had some year, from this role to singing ABBA in Mamma Mia! (which my mom will get for Christmas this year). My grandparents may have had Katharine Hepburn, but my generation would say Streep is in that league, and more.

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