Directed by John Patrick Shanley
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080pAVC codec
Running Time: 103 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Portuguese
Subtitles: English, Spanish
MSRP: $ 34.99
Release Date: April 7, 2009
Review Date: March 29, 2009
John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2005 play Doubt comes to the screen through the auspices of its creator. Though Shanley may not have been the best choice to direct his own work (I might have gone with Sidney Lumet), he has cast the picture brilliantly, opened up his original four character stage piece by adding some interesting new characters (and allowing us to see people who were only spoken about on the stage), and filmed the play in original Bronx locations that give the breath of authentic life to the story. Despite some occasionally trundling direction, Doubt works beautifully as a movie.
Father Brendan Flynn’s (Philip Seymour Hoffman) motivations toward showing kindness and compassion to St. Nicholas Catholic School’s lone black student (Joseph Foster II) are called into question by the innocent and well-meaning Sister James (Amy Adams). The stern, antiquated principal of the school Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) has herself noticed some suspicious aspects of the Father’s behavior toward the school’s male population and is determined to get answers, going even so far as enlisting the boy’s mother (Viola Davis) to back her play to have the priest in question removed.
The master stroke of Shanley’s original stage play and his screenplay for the movie is that the bigger questions of the film aren’t what it seems the story is building to at all. Guilt or innocence become relative terms once certain information is expounded and each side has had his or her say. And by the conclusion, the wrenching ideas of the poison of pre-conceived notions and the fleeting nature in the complex points of view about right and wrong simply take the audience’s breath away. Far from being a moral sermon about the ills of gossip or the justice concerning “innocent until proven guilty,” Doubt has as many different interpretations as there are audience members who view it. Shanley’s direction, unfortunately, often resorts to rudimentary framing: medium close-ups hog far too much of the film’s running time when one longs for extended takes with these exciting actors together in the shot while the camera explores their emotions as they play the scenes together. When it does happen, an explosive climactic confrontation between Streep and Hoffman, for example, it’s electric as these great actors thunder away at each other in the same shot adding vibrancy to the already passionate writing.
It’s no surprise that all four leading actors earned Oscar nominations for their work (with Meryl Streep taking home the Screen Actors Guild award for her performance). They are all magnificent, as individually precise and collectively proficient as great actors playing great roles can possibly be. Meryl Streep, playing the old guard nun who hates ballpoint pens as emblematic of the changing times she deplores, holds the screen with a calculated vengeance. Philip Seymour Hoffman shows many facets of this mercurial character, never quite giving the game away, just as it should have been played. Amy Adams does sweet and innocent as well as any actor today while Viola Davis, with only two scenes, delivers a haunting portrayal that will take many by surprise.
The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in 1080p using the AVC codec. It’s a solid encode with good sharpness though the finest object detail is occasionally a bit weaker than expected. The picture has been slightly desaturated of color to suggest the 1964 era nostalgically, and the transfer handles this with no problems. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix does have a few occasions to fire up all of the channels with a couple of raging thunderstorms that exploit the surrounds well and make adequate use of the subwoofer. Elsewhere, Howard Shore’s delicate score gets channeled to the rears nicely with a fine, open presence.
Director-writer John Patrick Shanley contributes a nostalgic audio commentary spending much of the track discussing his years in Catholic school which served as the inspiration for his story and the Bronx locations he grew up in and around and which were used in the movie wherever possible.
“From Stage to Screen” finds Shanley and actors Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis discussing the adaptation of the play from stage to screen and their involvement in the project after being cast. This makes a good companion piece to Shanley’s audio commentary though there is, of course, some overlap. It’s in 1080p and runs 19 minutes.
“The Cast of Doubt” is a 13 ¾-minute roundtable discussion with the four principal actors and moderated by host Dave Karger. The meaning of the play for each of them and their feelings about their working relationships are covered. It’s presented in 1080i.
“Scoring Doubt” is a too-brief 4 ½-minute conversation with composer Howard Shore explaining the tones and textures he was going for in writing the music for the movie. It’s in 1080p.
“The Sisters of Charity” is an interesting piece interviewing four actual nuns of the Order featured in the movie including Sister Margaret McEntee who served as the model for Amy Adams’ Sister James. The sisters discuss the changes that have happened in their religious lives during their lengthy periods spent as Sisters of Charity. This 1080p featurette runs 6 ½ minutes.
The disc offers 1080p previews of Lost and The Proposal. The theatrical trailer for Doubt is not included.
Doubt is unquestionably one of the best films of 2008, a thinking man’s drama about the nature of preconceptions and the damage such rigidity can cause. This one comes highly recommended!