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Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), the super-strict principal and leader of the Sisters of Charity of New York has her doubts about Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), especially following his sermon concerning the subject of doubt. Aloysius expresses her doubt to her sisters, and asks them to keep their eyes open for anything suspicious. When young and innocent Sister James (Amy Adams) then witnesses suspicious behaviour concerning Father Flynn and the school’s only black altar boy, she expresses her doubts to her superior, and a volatile chess game is instigated.

Doubt
As a film lover I’m admittedly not all that focused on acting. I watch a lot of broad animated entertainment and a lot of genuinely bad b-movies, so I’ve learned to ignore acting all together when necessary. When it’s good acting can drag a crap film out of the gutter, but I’m usually perfectly willing to let bad acting go if a story is interesting enough, or even if a film has an interesting look. Films like Doubt aren’t about flashy filmmaking, or even intricate plotting, they are about acting, and the trailers always make such a fact clear, as does the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences when they nominate all four major actors in a piece, but not the direction of the film itself. The video box also proudly wears a note telling prospective audiences that it’s based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play. I’m just low-brow enough to not usually bother with movies like Doubt, but sometimes a studio asks me to review one, and a stage-loving friend takes the initiative to make me do it (thank you Betsy).

Doubt
Doubt is all about the four lead performances, not the stoic and somewhat boringly handsome visuals, or the relatively unsurprising Oscar nominated screenplay. The high priestess of this particularly capable cast is Meryl Streep who takes what could’ve easily been a one note caricature, and turns Aloysius into an oddly loveable curmudgeon. She even earns a couple real laughs. Amy Adams impresses simply through her enormous presence even when acting as small and sheepish as she possibly can. Viola Davis also impresses immensely with her presence in her brief scene, which is probably the most subtle and nuanced in the entire film. Philip Seymour Hoffman gets slightly swept away by the other actors, but still exudes a warmth that adds real dimension to another character that could’ve been pancake flat. These are stage acting performances for the most part, so a curious audience should be ready to watch the film with a slightly different mindset.

The screenplay impresses with its occasionally flippant remark, but not its genuine view into human reality. The fashion in which writer/director John Patrick Shanley re-aims the audiences’ allegiances is pretty deft, but the early character set-ups are disappointingly single note. The most exceedingly interesting aspect of the script is the way that the accusations are almost all told without any visual evidence. Most films would either use a flashback or at least have shown the event previously, but in the case of Doubt the audience is usually left to make assumptions based on other visual information. The final solution is much more cut and dry than I think was originally intended, but still infuses definite seeds of… well, doubt. I assume I’d find the intricacies of the story more intriguing if Doubt had been a foreign film. American Catholicism is quite familiar to even non-Catholics these days, which is a plus for the film’s accessibility, but a minus for repeat viewings and ambiguous readings. Even the element of a possibly paedophilic priest is so engrained that it doesn’t carry any real degree of shock.

Doubt

Video


Doubt isn’t the best representation of high definition, but it’s almost entirely due to the way the film was made, not the Blu-ray producers’ shortcomings. The whole film is a slightly uncanny mix of harsh contrasts and soft lighting (kind of like a Magritte painting), causing relatively sharp details in some cases, but usually not to the degree that some hi-def fans may prefer. The depth and thickness of the blacks is the transfer’s most solid point, including, of course, the nun’s habits. There is a slice of noise around many of the darker edges throughout the film, much like that bit of gel that sometimes slides over one’s eye, but little tradition white edge enhancement. There are a few other compression artefacts throughout the film, including some messy noise, but the hazy focus can likely be blamed for most of this. Overall the fall colours are pretty accurately represented, and reasonably solid, but the washed out nature of the pallet is, again, not the best arena for 1080p.

Doubt

Audio


Again, Doubt isn’t about razzmatazz, video or audio, so the majority of the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 technology goes unused. And again, it’s really ok; it’s just not overly impressive. The centric vocal track is quite warm and consistent, but the rest of the on-set sound effects are mostly diverted to the same track. It sounds natural, but it isn’t wide by any means. There’s basically one impressive surround sound moment on the entire disc, that of the violent wind storm that ends the first act, which effectively fills the channels, and provides some throbbing bass. Another effective audio moment comes from a ringing phone, which ratchets the tension of an already tense scene, but the sound here could’ve been just as well represented by a mono mix. Besides a few outdoor rainy scenes, that’s about it for audio fury. Even Howard Shore’s score is mostly underscored into the track, sort of humming softly along with the characters in the stereo channels, and only crescendoing once in a blue moon.

Extras


Extras start with a commentary featuring writer/director John Patrick Shanley solo. Shanley isn’t the best commentator, and doesn’t give a lot of insight into the filmmaking or writing processes, but he’s valuable in explaining the intricacies of the Catholic Church in the early ‘60s. The degree to which the screenplay is based on Shanley’s real life is also quite interesting, but it’s mostly inconsequential touches, none of the major plot points are based on his personal experiences.

Doubt
Next up is a ‘From Stage to Screen’ featurette, which runs about nineteen minutes. Those of us that don’t have a want to watch the film all over again with commentary will get almost every important point from this interesting, if not a little humourless featurette. Subjects covered are the real-life aspects of the script, the play’s reception, the adaptation of a four person play into a film, filming around the Bronx, the actor’s opinions on the subject matter

‘The Cast of Doubt’ is a fifteen minute roundtable with the four lead actors filmed for Entertainment Weekly’s website. It’s not as fluffy as it sounds, but it’s still pretty light weight. The cast interaction is wonderfully charming, but the questions are soft balls, and the answers pretty vague. ‘Scoring Doubt’ is a brief look (04:30) at Howard Shore’s contributions to the film, which covers the writing and recording of the music. Things come to an end with ‘The Sisters of Charity’, a six and a half minute look at the real life nuns that inspired the story and actors. These brief stories are surprisingly fascinating, including the history of the habit. There are also a few Miramax trailers on the disc.

Doubt

Overall


Doubt isn’t quite accessible enough to cross boundaries, but it was a much more entertaining experience than I was expecting. The actors are the show stoppers, not unexpectedly, but despite a lack of surprise the story is easy to watch unfold, and easy to get swept up within. The Blu-ray disc features some shortcomings in the A/V front, but is an accurate representation of what was put on film. The extras are slight, but relatively informative.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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