I can appreciate a film constructed around a concept, but to work that film better nail the intended concept. Doubt is, unsurprisingly, about doubt and as such should give the viewer a lot to ponder about doubt. However I, when enveloped in the world of Doubt, doubted the importance of the doubt portrayed, and I seriously doubt that was the intent.

It won’t be too long before the discussion grows too spoilery and I’ll have to shove it all after the jump so let’s get the Oscar stuff out of the way. Doubt tallied four acting nominations since it is a Very Serious Acting Movie. Meryl Streep’s Sister Aloysius, headmistress at a Catholic school in 1960s the Bronx, believes Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Father Flynn has entered into an inappropriate relationship with a young pupil. Amy Adams’s Sister James brings the initial allegation to Aloysius and feels torn between the two as Aloysius pursues him without firm evidence. Viola Davis has a couple emotional scenes as the potential victim’s mother with a shocking agenda.

Streep is sometimes dead-on and sometimes a little hammy. She is always a force on the screen, however, even when I wondered why something was being played up so dramatically. I liked Hoffman, as I usually do. He imparts a lot of humanity into a character who we are led to believe may have done something quite terrible. Even at his darkest moments I felt like I’d enjoy having a drink with him or even would have liked him as a teacher. Davis’s brief appearance seems to have moved many people though I’m not sure I would have made any special note of it without the Oscar hype. I think maybe part of the performance was lost on me since the substance of her scenes was occupying me, and not usually in a good way (more on that later). And Adams, well, as I said in one of our nomination prediction posts I usually enjoy her but this time she was just one-note and chirpy. What worked so well in Enchanted is now growing stale, between this and Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day. She seemed to just get swept up in this wave of acting nominations for the film because I don’t think she contributes much to her character, and neither she nor her character contributes much to the film.

As for everything else, it failed to sneak into Best Picture or Director, thankfully. It’s Adapted Screenplay nod is pretty weak considering it probably took The Dark Knight‘s spot. (By the way, writer/director John Patrick Shanley’s only other film? Joe Versus the Volcano!) That was the end of its Oscar journey, but it is very effective in transporting the viewer to another time. I’ve heard several comments, including from my mother, about how brilliantly it recreates the world of a Catholic school at that era down to the smallest detail, so some credit must be due in areas such as cinematography, costume, and art direction even if those nominations failed to materialize.

And truth be told it’s a pretty good movie. The plot is interesting and naturally dramatic. The setting and peek into the Catholic church at a time of pretty dramatic institutional change are interesting. The characters are really great and fleshed-out, especially Aloysius and Flynn. Doubt has a clear objective, however, and it doesn’t meet it. A film built on a central thesis has trouble succeeding if that thesis fails, no matter how great the periphery elements are. And so it works in a way, but not in the intended way.

I know the fellow Grouches I’ve discussed this with disagree with me, but I think a significant amount of people who see Doubt are going to leave the theater thinking it’s a film about (spoiler time- continue on after the jump)

a courageous nun who goes after a predatory priest when no one else will. And I know that’s not the intention, not in a film called Doubt. But the story is weighted too much in one direction. The circumstantial evidence against Flynn, as displayed, is pretty damning. I kept waiting for a revelatory piece of information in Flynn’s favor to rebalance the scale but it never appeared. In fact, he gives a non-denial tantamount to a confession near the end. And the stakes are relatively low here if Aloysius is wrong; it’s not like Flynn is going to rot in jail for this. He’d only get transferred to another job or another parish. And that response strikes me as the minimal appropriate response given the evidence presented, even if just to be safe.

The scenes with Davis as the potential victim’s mother also didn’t do much for me. I understand the character’s reasoning to some extent and I understand the point of the scenes to give Aloysius some doubt as to whether the course she was taking was beneficial even if she was right. But I refuse to accept that a child’s mother has the right to decide if it’s okay for her child to be molested. That’s not valid and it shouldn’t sway someone like Aloysius. Practically the conversation convinces her that threatening the child is the wrong course of action to take, but she corrects her course and continues on her self-imposed mission. As I thought she should.

Jared says the film falters because it never changes after it establishes its doubt. I say it never even managed to do that. But he’s right about that whole set of problems so his post his a good read. Plus the 12 Angry Men comparison is pretty brilliant.

I find my reaction to the film surprising since I’m usually a classic hemmer and hawer, willing to see all sides of a situation, identifying gray areas where others might not, and always struggling to make decisions. I love films with moral complexities. And yet this movie meant to play into all those tendencies never did. It reminds me a lot of last year’s Gone Baby Gone, a film revolving around a last act quandary that asks, “What would you have done?” I knew exactly what I would have done there and I did again here. At least Gone Baby Gone ends on an absolutely perfect note with the protagonist lying in the bed he made. Aloysius’s last gasp jolt of doubt at the end of Doubt just made me wonder what happened to her balls. At the very least her move from steadfast certainty to crying out in anguish seems like an awful large shift for a character not prone change.

A cop out ending if there ever was one, no doubt.

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