The devil no longer wears Prada. She wears a habit.
But is Meryl Streep’s Sister Aloysius Beauvier really the evil one? Or is it Father Flynn as portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman? That simple question is at the heart of Doubt, the stunning new film written and directed by John Patrick Shanley from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play.
When Sister Aloysius suspects Father Flynn of molesting the Catholic school’s first black student, she uses all her resources to bring the priest to justice. With flimsy evidence, she embarks on a journey of conviction that overwhelms her and changes the lives of everyone touched by the alleged scandal.
Taking the intense drama from the claustrophobic confines of the stage and only slightly broadening the world in which these characters interact is a strategic move that works well.
Too often stage-to-screen adaptations take too much liberty with their freedom to release their actors into the wild of exciting locales, sometimes leaving the meat of the story overshadowed by flashy sets and costumes.
Not in Doubt. The tortured examination of one’s faith, or the lack thereof, is only magnified by the celluloid treatment.
Tight shots of small facial tics. A tiny, slowly trickling tear. The despair hiding behind reddened eyes. What was heart-wrenching on stage is now utterly devastating in extreme close-up.
Streep’s performance is otherworldly and Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis are welcome guests in her ethereal realm. As directed by Shanley, there is no detail left to chance.
This is clearly his vision realized in vivid Technicolor.
Yet the casting brings an interesting dynamic into play for anyone who’s seen a live version. For example, a recent production at WaterTower Theatre in Addison, featured an actor playing Father Flynn who was younger and better looking, making us root for his possible innocence. But the born-to-portray-a-pedophile Hoffman just has an innate creepiness that makes us believe in his guilt.
We’re ashamed of our looksism, but it still can’t be denied.
Is this a hidden message to the truth behind Shanley’s script? Or just a further decoy to keep us guessing what really happened that one fateful day in the rectory back in 1964?
We have our suspicions. And our doubts.
Opens today at Angelika Dallas and Angelika Plano, expanding on Christmas Day
Running Time: 104 minutes
Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis
Written and Directed by: John Patrick Shanley (based on his play)