Saturday, December 27, 2008

Doubt (2008)

Doubt is a film about polar opposites. Right and wrong. Complexity and simplicity. Certainty and doubt. The two main characters, Sister Beauvier (Meryl Streep), and Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are character foils. It is directed by John Patrick Shanley, the playwright of the stage version of Doubt. It uses quick, short shots and relentless dialog to achieve a frantic uneasiness that remains present through the entire film.

Sister Beauvier is an uptight, traditional nun who is also the principal of a private Catholic school. Father Flynn is a jovial, progressive priest and is Beauvier’s superior. Sister Beauvier notices Flynn’s friendly relationship with one of the male students, and immediately assumes the worst. She attempts to get Flynn to confess to an ‘unhealthy relationship’ with only her certainty as evidence. Sister James (Amy Adams), however, has doubt.

Dutch angles are very prominent in this film. For those of you who don’t already know, Dutch angles are achieved by tilting the camera off to the side so that the shot is composed with the horizon at an angle to the bottom of the frame. They are used primarily to instill unease in the viewer. In Doubt, however, Dutch angles are used to convey uncertainty. In one scene, Sister James vocally expresses her doubts about a situation to Father Flynn. The characters are sitting on benches, not adjacent, but not opposite each other either. Every shot has Dutch angles and has only one of the characters in the frame at a time. This not only conveys uncertainty, but it amplifies the distance between James and Flynn. Once Father Flynn puts Sister James’ fears to rest, the camera cuts back to a level angle and all seems right with the world.

Meryl Streep gives one of the best performances of her seasoned career, and Philip Seymour Hoffman performs splendidly as well. While some might not love Amy Adams, I must admit she was cast perfectly. I’m going to go out on a limb here and call this film a casterpiece--a casting masterpiece. Streep is terrifying, and Hoffman is definitely doubtable no matter if the viewer finds him guilty or not.

All of the acting, camerawork, and the extremely understated score by Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings) come together beautifully to create this fantastic film. This is easily one of the best films of 2008 and this should be recognized come Oscar time.

Grade: A-

1 comment:

Crystal said...

I noticed the dutch angles but did not know what they were called until I read your review,thanks for the definition.