Earlier this week I was talking with Adam about why Doubt didn’t do much for me.  Not that I’m intelligible to begin with, but I made a complete hash of my thoughts.  Which sorta trashed my plans to just copy the conversation into here.  Instant post, just add water.  So my new plan is to ramble for awhile and see what happens.  I can’t see any flaws.

I don’t think it is presumptuous to suggest “doubt” the concept, is supposed to be an integral part of Doubt the movie.  Did Philip Seymour Hoffman’s priest character engage in inappropriate relations with a student?  Meryl Streep as the head nun sure seems pretty positive he did, with scant evidence to back it up.  Amy Adams’s naive nun teeters back and forth on the fence.  And the child’s mother, as played by Viola Davis, prefers not to think about anything which could derail her son from getting through the next few months.  So, fine, we have different levels of doubt, and the impact it has on decision-making.

But my fundamental problem with the film is a lack of development, a failure to communicate the so what.  Fairly early on it becomes clear where each character stands, save for the one bit at the end I won’t spoil, but is too little too late.  Really, it seems like the script started out as a two minute sketch, where Adams says, “I don’t know if he did or didn’t do it.”  Then Streep says, “Oh, I know he did it.”  Adams replies, “How do you know?” and Streep answers, “I just do.”  Then Hoffman says, “This is ridiculous, why are you doing this.”  Rinse and repeat.

If I may, I’d like to compare Doubt to 12 Angry Men and Proof.  Because I think the three share a number of common threads.  All are adaptations and staged in a very confined space.  The three films all feature Oscar favorites.  And I think they all grapple with the concept of doubt, or some variation.  Proof is considered a flop, mostly because the producers rather unwisely decided not to have me as an extra.  In case you missed it, the film is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a genius professor who has begun a descent into insanity.  Upon his passing, a revolutionary proof is found in his desk, but the professor’s daughter claims to have written it.  Of course, the first problem here is the audience’s buy-in.  Not very many people care who is credited with a math proof.  The second problem is that the film eventually does sort of reveal who wrote the proof.  Neither of these problems are relevant to Doubt.  But maybe the biggest problem with Proof is that Gwyneth Paltrow says she wrote the proof.  She get entangled with her dad’s student, Jake Gyllenhaal, who doesn’t believe she wrote the proof.  Then…nothing happens.  Person A thinks one thing, Person B thinks another.  Well, OK, that’s kind of interesting, but if there’s no further evidence to change their minds, something else has to happen, otherwise they are just saying the same things over and over for a half hour.

I love 12 Angry Men.  You should see it and love it too.  If you haven’t, basically we see jurors deliberate over what verdict to reach on a murder case.  It seems open and shut at first, but Henry Fonda has other ideas.  As in Doubt, the stakes are high: the jury is effectively deciding the fate of a man’s life.  But 12 Angry Men does a better job keeping that in mind.  The movie also shows how eleven out of twelve people can be convinced firmly of one thing and what it takes for doubt to creep in, even if just a little bit.  And granted, maybe it is an unfair comparison.  But if you compare Streep to Fonda, the difference is that Fonda gets people to think a little bit different.  Streep doesn’t really.  No one really gets changed by her words or actions.

Thanks for indulging me.  Another warning sign, for me at any rate, is when one of the first phrases used to describe a movie is “well-acted.”  That may be all well and good, but I’d much rather an interesting story.  Doubt received four acting nominations, which is impressive for a non-Best Picture nominees.  Of course, it might have gotten a little lucky in the supporting actress category, where viable alternatives to the vulnerable Amy Adams failed to surface.  And I’ll be honest, in a vacuum I never would have called Viola Davis’s nomination any more than Ruby Dee’s last year.  John Patrick Shanley’s adaptation of his own play also received a nomination.  I obviously would rather it hadn’t, but it isn’t the weakest nomination in the category.

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