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Doubt and Certainty

Dec. 29, 2008
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In 1964, the time of Doubt, no one spoke of pedophile priests, even if the Roman Catholic Church was already riddled with them. Directed by John Patrick Shanley from his own play, one of the most provocative recent productions on a Broadway that has surrendered to the tourist trade, Doubt is true to its title. Neither an exercise in moral certainty nor an easy story for armchair ethicists, Doubt investigates the blurry line between perception and reality, knowing and unknowing.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Father Flynn, a priest who brings spirituality down to earth in inspired homilies. Opposing him is his parish school's principal, Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), whose rectitude is colder than an iron fence in winter. She serves an unforgiving god who rues his creation. Between them is Sister James (Amy Adams), an innocent young idealist bursting with the love of her vocation.

Sister James thinks she may have seen suspicious behavior between Father Flynn and the school's sole black pupil; Sister Aloysius, already despising Flynn as a modernizer, seizes the crumbs of accusation with a fanatic's hunger. For his part, the priest's response strikes wavering notes of unease. Perhaps he's guilty of something, but not exactly the sin he's accused of?

Shanley transforms his play into cinema with strikingly askew perspectives in the stark setting of the Bronx at winter's edge. Gripping and tense with words unspoken, Doubt careens audience sympathy between the protagonists, the children and Sister James, who regrets giving voice to her thoughts. Certainty surrenders to the uncomfortable realization that much of what we think we know may be only part of the truth.


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