Controversial topics often make the best films, but they can sometimes come back to prove worthless because you could end up boring your audience. Whether things get too educational or people just don’t care going too in depth on the subject matter at hand, films based on controversial, and real, topics are a risky investment. The Catholic Church and all of the baggage that comes with it is one of those risky chances that filmmaker could take if they were looking to get a production released that was not only educational but interesting. There is so much that can be said for both the good and bad faces of the Catholic Church that, depending on how the film is presented, you’re either looking at a good intense drama or a documentary. Doubt is one of those films that decided to take all the risks and succeeded greatly in not only giving an entertaining film, but also one that is enlightening.
Christmastime in the Bronx in 1964, the year after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Things are still very difficult for the American people as they try to cope with that loss and make changes for a different way of life. The Catholic Church is also undergoing changes, especially at the St. Nicholas Church School which is seeing the hand of Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) lead a new way with the students. Father Flynn thinks that the only way to make the church a better place for everyone involved is a much closer relationship with the boys attending. These new ways are met with pleasure and trust from the boys considering they have long been ruled under the iron fist of Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep). She believes that strict discipline and solid ruling is a way that children will grow up with the proper respect for the church and all they’ll do in life.
Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius are constantly in a standoff as to how the boys should be correctly educated and just how close relationships with them should be. As time goes on, Sister Aloysius begins to suspect Father Flynn of much more then trying to bring a light-hearted new mood to St. Nicholas when she believes he is having an improper relationship with first (and only) black child in the school. Denied up and down by Father Flynn, Sister Aloysius knows that there is no way she can keep an eye on him without letting on that she is spying on him. So she does the only thing she can think of and enlists the help of the young and naive Sister James to keep a watchful eye on Father Flynn, but she comes up with no evidence of malicious activity. Sister Aloysius knows there is more going on in her school and she aims to prove it for the sake of the Catholic Church and the protection of the children.
There is not much more that can be said about Doubt except that it’s absolutely remarkable. It’s subject matter has been in the spotlight for such a long time that it would draw the interest of everyone. Audiences can relate to it all even if they aren’t of the Catholic religion because it is almost impossible not to know anything about the scandals and such going on unless you’ve been locked up in a closet somewhere. Whether it is something deal with sex or indecency with children or money laundering schemes; the Catholic Church is full of tons of material to make a decade’s worth of films without ever once touching on the same subject. What Doubt does is present this particular, and most prominent, controversy without ever making it seem like a documentary or a preaching vehicle. Director John Shanley keeps it entertaining, informative, and tension-filled so that you’ll be glued to your screen the entire time.
Besides having a great background and story to work with, Shanley knew what he was doing when he cast the three lead roles to Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Having those three lead your film means never wondering if the acting performances will be good because they guarantee it will be top notch. Streep is perfect as the tyrannical Sister Aloysius and knows how to make you look at her with disdain while also knowing she is doing the right thing. Hoffman is brilliant as Father Flynn and does a great job of making you love him while also knowing he is a sick and disturbed bastard. Adams fits right in as the mediator between both of those extreme characters and brings it all together with a finely stitched seam. Shanley knew what to do with Doubt and did it all right.
Doubt is shown in 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen format and even though there is a bit of a dark hue on the whole film, that is intentional and makes how beautiful the film is even more stunning. All textures look fantastic while the colors are brilliant when they can be making Doubt an even greater viewing experience then just from the subject matter and wonderful performances.
The film is heard in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and it comes through making this Blu-ray release even greater. All dialogue can be heard clearly and crisply which is perfect since there is a lot of it here since you aren’t really watching a film that is heavy on special effects and explosions. The musical score sets some great moods and fills the room from the surrounding speakers making the overall feel of the film really hit home.
Doubt: From Stage To Screen – Some behind the scenes footage is interlaced with comments from the cast and crew about how they felt while shooting the film and their thoughts on the subject matter. It is a simple featurette, but it gives some good insight into the minds of the actors and how they perceived everything. (19:00)
Scoring Doubt – One of my favorite composers, Howard Shore, is interviewed here about his score for the film and how different songs fit in with different characters. This interview is extremely short and that is quite upsetting because I would have loved to hear more about how Shore comes up with his music for not only Doubt but many of the other films he’s worked on that I love. (4:00)
The Cast Of Doubt – Dave Karger from Entertainment Weekly is the host for a roundtable discussion with Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Viola Davis, and Amy Adams. Together they all discuss the film and its subject matter, bringing it from a play to the big screen, and the many different ways it can be looked at by viewers. Quite entertaining but far too short. (14:00)
The Sisters Of Charity – Quite possibly one of the most intriguing featurettes is this interview with four of the nuns who were a part of the Sisters Of Charity during the real time in which the film was set. The nuns talk about their faith, situations brought about because of Doubt, and the controversies and accusations that have been brought against the Catholic Church throughout time. (6:00)
Audio Commentary – Writer and director John Patrick Shanley and he certainly is never at a loss for words. Shanley goes into the story and how it relates to real actions and happenings from the Catholic Church. He also discusses the changes that needed to be made by bringing Doubt from off the stage bring a play and onto the big screen as a film. Shanley gives some great information here and never once gets dull or boring. I’m not too fond of the solo commentary tracks, but Shanley really knows how to keep your attention and make you walk away feeling much smarter and informed.
Trailers – The Proposal and LOST
It’s quite a shame that I didn’t end up checking out Doubt when it first arrived in theatres on Christmas because it would have definitely made it into my Top Ten of 2008 list. With a fantastic story being played out by a miraculous (pardon the pub) cast that knows how to make anything seem real and everything hit close to home. The seriousness of the issue at hand is what really will catch your attention and then leave it up to Streep and Hoffman to keep you glued to your seat wondering what could possibly happen next. The special features included are all rather short, except for the commentary of course, but they’re worth checking out and wishing there was more to them. Maybe giving each featurette fifteen to twenty minutes more a piece wouldn’t have been too hard because you know this is a topic that has plenty of background and could be discussed and dissected for hours. Let me throw a little bit more on top of all that because Doubt may not be the action-packed explosive film that many people want to come from Blu-ray’s abilities, but it certainly delivers all the high definition you could want. Grab a copy of Doubt for your very own and be prepared for confessional afterwards.
That’d make a hell of a special feature don’t you think? A little card included with the Blu-ray disc that advises you to go confess your sins at church. Is that blasphemous?
Miramax presents Doubt. Directed by: John Patrick Shanley. Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Viola Davis. Written by: John Patrick Shanley. Running time: 104 minutes. Rating: PG-13. Released on DVD: April 7, 2009. Available at Amazon.com