Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Movies: Doubt

Another day, another dollar, another disappointment*

I knew by watching the trailer that this film would be ridiculous; there's simply no way to invest billowing black robes with suspense. As a Catholic school girl myself (of the 80s, rather than the 60s) I had a very Sr. Aloysius (Meryl Streep)-like nun as a fourth grade teacher (who insisted that "often" be pronounced with a hard 't,' until I, filled at that age with moxie, demonstrated otherwise with the classroom's dictionary). We didn't have the luck (or the worry, depending) of having a Father Flynn, though there were a few like him at my high school.

I say "like him" in a good way, rather than a damning—since everyone must have an opinion, mine is that he didn't do it. Certainly he could have, but director John Patrick Shanley doesn't stack enough clues against him; the only moment in which we see him in bad light is at the dinner table, carving red meat, red in the face with wine, and the only sin there is gluttony, one that doesn't dovetail neatly with pederasty.

I usually have trouble separating Philip Seymour Hoffman from his roles, and this one was no different. Seeing his red face chuckling piggy-like over meat and wine, hearing his smug explanation for the length of his fingernails, I thought, as I always do, of Freddie Miles in The Talented Mr. Ripley, the role for which the cinema gods created Phil Hoffman. Meryl Streep, for all everyone will coo that she owns her role, also looks like layperson playing dress-up. The crankiness she nails, the self-righteousness as well, but something is still amiss. There's something flat, dare I say lay-person like in the accent of her whine: New Jersey rather than New England. Amy Adams, delightful child actors aside, is the real performer in the film, transitioning from doe-eyed to nervous to shrill to wistful as the plot, which she's inadvertently set in motion, turns around her (I found myself wanting to see her play Brioni in Atonement, a role much the same, but with a bit more literary depth).

In the end, Doubt feels much too short, too small, too quiet, and too stagy. There's no reason why a film made after a stage production should be as shallow; film can do more, and its powers should be harnessed every time.

*Actually, I saw this movie on the same day, and the same dollar, as this one (another dramatic changeling), because I knew they would both suck. I was planing to watch Gran Turino, which will also suck, on the same day and the same dollar, but it was playing on a different floor. Bastards.

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