Doubt (review)

Passionate performances aside, there’s an odd dispassion to this stage-to-screen adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name. Admittedly, it’s tough to put aside those performances — by Meryl Streep (Mamma Mia!) as a hardass nun, Philip Seymour Hoffman (Synecdoche, New York) as the priest she suspects of molesting a student, Amy Adams (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) as the young nun who acts as a buffer between them in a Catholic school in 1964 Bronx, and Viola Davis (The Andromeda Strain) as the student’s mother — but they feel oddly in aid of a trifle… which is decidedly not how things should feel, with such weighty topics under scrutiny. Streep’s nun has no proof whatsoever of her suspicions against the priest except her certainty, which is founded on nothing but her barely subsumed (and completely justifiable) rancor at being so powerless a figure in so misogynist an institution as the Catholic Church. Playwright John Patrick Shanley has opened up his own play with little moments highlighting the beautifully realized world of this insular school, but it still feels shockingly uncinematic. It’s not that talky scripts can’t work — Shanley’s own Oscar-winning Best Screenplay for 1988’s Moonstruck is the perfect example of one that does. It’s that this one never catches fire in the requisite filmic way.

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