Monday, 22 February 2010

Doubt

Lowdown: A power struggle within a monastery.
Review:
I first bumped into Doubt some four years ago. Back them it was a theater play I didn’t like that much (as reported here). During 2008 the play was adapted to the big screen and some major star power was attached in the form of Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman (as well as Enchanted’s Amy Adams; maybe she didn’t go through her full rites yet, but I am of the opinion she is a fine actress). Since a lot of my criticism with Doubt the play had to do with the theater format, I was curious to see how Doubt managed the transition to film and everything that came with it.
To recap the plot, Doubt takes place inside an American Catholic monastery where male priests run a community church and nuns run a school. Set shortly after JFK was assassinated, times are tough in America: They lost their beloved leader, racial tensions are high, and people are looking for guidance. The church can either choose to offer this guidance the old way, with its strict rules, or in a more modern open way; this dilemma is at the core of Doubt, and it’s triggered by the monastery accepting its very first black child to its school.
Three people take sides in this War of the Dilemma: Streep is the old fashioned tough school principle who is a conservative to the core, so conservative she won’t even accept ball point pens. Seymour Hoffman is the modernist priest who plays with the schoolchildren and gets closer to them. Adams, the third part of this triangle, is the school teacher who observes the evidence and needs to decide who is right once open war breaks as Streep accuses Seymour Hoffman of sexually abusing the black child and Seymour Hoffman insists on seeing the evidence against him. Doubt ensues, and in the end it all comes down to faith.
On the plus side, one cannot deny that Doubt the film sports some major acting on behalf of its participants. It is a genuine display of a power struggle between people with a third party representing the rest of us having to make the call. As a bonus, Doubt the film does a better job than the play in expanding the issue at hand from the personal “did he do it or not” to the more engulfing theological debate. But then there are the negative sides, all of which put hands together to render me unable to attach myself to the story at hand.
First of all, Doubt seems unable to detach itself from the shackles of the theater format under which it was born. You may be watching it at the cinema or on your TV, but it still feels as if you’re watching a play.
Second, given my opinion on matters of faith and all that for which there is no evidence, I couldn’t help but feel the entire dilemma and the entire premises are completely ridiculous and irrelevant; the fact such circumstances still exist may make it relevant to some people, but only because they voluntarily accept things which rational people shouldn't. Sure, the film takes care of my argument by stating the black child had nowhere else to go to but this Catholic school, but I cannot help it: by definition, all theological discussions are nothing more than exchanges of hot air, simply because by their very definition they are completely unfounded.
And third: with all due respect, I found Doubt rather boring. Too much talk, too little action. That monastery could sure use some doers in its crew.
Worst scenes: There are a couple of scenes in which the director tries to stray out of the world of theater by tilting the camera to give us a crooked view of the world. It doesn’t work; it only attracts unnecessary attention to the camera.
Technical assessment: Between Blu-rays and off the air high definition material, DVDs now seem like the poor cousin. Doubt, probably because of its lack of commercial appeal, was only available on DVD at our video rental shop, and therefore had a rather disadvantaged start. Problem is, as DVDs go, Doubt is a really bad one: The picture is very low on detail, especially in the darkness that dominates the film. You could have also tricked me by claiming the sound is monophonic.
Overall: Good acting does not necessarily make a good film. 2 out of 5 stars.

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