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Nominated for 5 Golden Globes

The radical changes of the Sixties came early to Catholicism as the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) brought an unprecedented liberalizing spirit into the Church. In Doubt, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) incarnates this shift toward tolerance and modernity. He smokes and drinks and tells questionable jokes, and seems alive to whole realms of carnal, sensual and political experience. He is a fresh wind in an airless room, and many of his parishioners, especially the youngest among them, respond to him with bemusement and even love. This puts Flynn into diametric opposition with Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), an unrepentant disciplinarian and the principal of the parish grade school, who convinces herself there may be something not quite right in Flynn’s affection for the boys in her charge. The sister’s suspicions are communicated to novice teacher Sister James (a suitably wan and milky Amy Adams). When an incident involving Father Flynn and a lone and vulnerable eighth grader (Joseph Foster) seems to confirm Sister Aloysius’ deepest fears, all four characters are hurled into a new context of half-certainties and irresolution – a gray and smudged charcoal sketch suddenly imposed over a world they took for black and white. There will be no better performances given in an American film this year than Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius or Viola Davis as Mrs. Miller, mother to the boy who may have had inappropriate contact with Father Flynn. The single scene between these two actors encapsulates everything that’s great about this movie, with Sister Aloysius’ intractable rectitude suddenly confronted by the despair, compromises and mixed motives of a true flesh and blood human being. In its previous incarnation as a Pulitzer-winning play, Doubt was frequently seen as a reaction to the vast molestation scandal engulfing the Catholic Church in the first years of the 21st century. The unvarnished evil of child abuse is certainly a central subtext in this picture – a spreading stain from an unseen source, undermining the characters’ trust in institutionalized sanctimony, perhaps even in the idea of God itself. It’s a measure of Shanley’s precision though that he can address this critical and explosive issue as a sidebar while leaving his central conflict disturbingly unresolved and subtly expressed. Ultimately, Doubt is not primarily a movie about a hot button topic but rather an existential morality play, an unblinking vision of the remorseless formlessness of life as it’s actually lived, and a comment on the potential futility in trying to impose moral clarity and unambiguous order on the murk of human motives and behaviour. – Ray Greene, Box Office

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Directed by: 
John Patrick Shanley
Running Time: 
Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis
Screenplay by: 
John Patrick Shanley, based on his own play

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