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Doubt (2008)

Miramax Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/7/2009

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/9/2009

In the past, when it came to adapting another medium into movies, novels were most likely the number one source. (I don't have any hard data on this, but it seems like a fairly solid assumption.) Over the past few years, we've seen a surge in comic books and video games being transformed into films. Another medium which also gets some play (pun intended), is the theater. Taking something from the stage to the screen can be a challenge, as the filmmakers have to decide how "big" to make the movie. Doubt is a good example of this.

Doubt is set in the early 1960s in New York City. The setting is Saint Nicholas Church and its adjoining school. Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) is the principal of the school and she rules it with an iron hand. One day, Sister James (Amy Adams), one of the teachers in the school, comes to Sister Aloysius to report that Donald Miller (Joseph Foster II), the lone African-American student in the school, acted strangely after being called in to see Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Sister Aloysius immediately fears that Father Flynn has done something inappropriate. She approaches Father Flynn about this, but he denies it. Still, Sister Aloysius isn't satisfied and is convinced that something has happened. Dragging Sister James with her, Sister Aloysius starts down a path to prove that she is right.

In looking at Doubt, let's begin with the title. Doubt is the opposite of faith, which is supposed to be the cornerstone of any religious person's beliefs. Playwright John Patrick Shanley, who also adapted the story for the screen and directed the film, has integrated these ideas into the story. Despite the fact that Sister James saw Donald's behavior first-hand, the fact that she likes Father Flynn as a person causes her to doubt his guilt. In contrast, Sister Aloysius has no doubt that Father Flynn has done something to the boy and she rests all of her convictions on this faith. She doesn't care how this makes her look, either to Sister James or to Donald's mother, played by Viola Davis, she won't stray from this idea.

Along with this central concept, which explores two sides of the same coin, Doubt's complex characters are multi-faceted. Sister Aloysius is portrayed as the stereotypical mean nun which we've seen in so many movies. (Father Flynn refers to her as "the dragon" at one point.) But, in the scenes where she assists one of the Sisters who is old and frail, we see that Sister Aloysius can also be a kind and caring person. Father Flynn comes across as a very charming and warm person and it's easy to see why he's well-liked. But, there are also some small things about his person which seem somewhat odd. Sister James is young and energetic and loves teaching. But, she is also naive and too trusting of others. Of course, the best example of opposites in the film is when we see the quiet and somber meal shared by the nuns, compared to the almost party-like atmosphere at the priest's dinner.

Clearly, Doubt contains some great attributes and Shanley must have done something right with the play, as it has won Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. However, the film leaves something to be desired. First of all, Shanley clearly can't decide how far he wants to get from the original play (based on what little I know about it). In theory, he could have opened the film up and made it as big as he would have liked. We get a sermon in a large cathedral and some scenes on the street, but for the most part, the movie takes place in Sister James' classroom, Sister Aloysius' office, and a courtyard. The close quarters create a sense of claustrophobia, but they also make it feel like Shanley was afraid to take any big chances. Where he did take chances was with the symbolism in the film, which is quite heavy-handed at times. From a wind which is constantly blowing to the fault light bulbs in Sister Aloysius' office, the viewer feels as if the movie never gives us a break and allows us to think on our own. That is, save for the ending. Shanley states that he wants the final act of the play to take place after it's over, where the audience will discuss their take on what they've just seen. This open-ended approach won't sit well with some viewers. Well-acted and intriguing, Doubt has a good story but little follow-through.

Doubt has no questions about coming to Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Miramax Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a very slight grain and no defects from the source material. Shanley has shot the film in a very naturalistic way, allowing for changes in natural lighting. However, the image is never overly dark. The colors look realistic and then are never too bright. The image has a nice level of depth and detail. The Disc contains a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a fairly quiet drama, but the audio is still on the mark. The stereo effects are good and nicely detailed in some crowd scenes. The in-film music sounds very good. There is little in the way of surround sound effects, save for crowd noise and some street sound effects. I didn't note any overt subwoofer activity.

The Doubt Blu-ray Disc offers a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director John Patrick Shanley. In "From Stage to Screen" (19 minutes) Shanley talks about his work and some of the challenges of adapting the play. We also get comments from the cast about their characters. The piece then turns into Shanley interviewing Meryl Streep, where they talk about the making of the movie. (Unfortunately, this piece doesn't give much detailed info on what the play is like and what specific things were added.) "The Cast of Doubt" (14 minutes) featues a group interview with Davis, Streep, Hoffman, and Adams where they discuss their work on the movie. Composer Howard Shore talks about his music for the film in "Scoring Doubt" (5 minutes). "Sisters of Charity" (6 minutes) has Streep and Shanley discussing how Shanley's interviews with real-life nuns helped to shape the film.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long