2009-01-23 / Entertainment/Lifestyles

MovieScope

'Doubt' - Religious War
By Robert Snyder

While the war in the film, "Doubt," is not about religion, per se, it does take place in a Catholic school and it is between a nun and a priest.

What's at stake is the wellbeing of a sensitive, bullied boy. Religious dogma flies around like feathers in a pillow fight, yet the boy, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster III), is unaware of it. He just wants to survive for a few more months, until June, when he can get into a better school.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning stage by John Patrick Shanley, who also adapted and directed the film, "Doubt" provides a boxing ring for stellar actors Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman to duke it out.

And duke it out, they do.

Each moment of the hour and 44 minutes has something to savor. As the dictatorial school principal, Sister Aloysius, Streep is in her glory: frightening, clever. Machiavellian, and often very funny. But she's not without a soft side, which she shows toward an elderly nun, who is losing her sight. Hoffman playing her benevolent supervisor, Father Brendan Flynn, appears at first to be the good guy, acting in the role of protector to Donald, the first African American student in the school.

Sister Aloysius doesn't buy the "protector" bit. She has Father Flynn pegged as a pedophile, although this being 1964, such terminology is never used.

The wrathful nun goes after the priest with both barrels blasting. For a while, Flynn holds his own.

Caught in the crossfire are kindhearted, naive Sister James (Amy Adams) and Mrs. Miller (Viola Davis), Donald's mother. Sister James likes Father Flynn, while feeling compelled to do snitch work for Sister Aloysius. In a heartbreaking performance, Davis conveys the dilemma Mrs. Miller faces with an apparently homosexual son threatened from all sides and, in particular, from his brutal father. Despite awareness of the sexual intent, she sees the priest offering her son a safe haven until June.

To experience acting at its most powerful in a Pulitzer play, don't hesitate to see "Doubt."

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