May 28, 2009
Doubt might just be the biggest surprise of the year for me, not for what it depicts but for what it doesn’t. I’d love to go into more detail and explain exactly what I mean by that, but I’d almost surely (see how I didn’t say undoubtedly) spoil it in the process. No matter what opinion you’ve derived from the trailer, chances are this is not that film. Couple of points, Doubt is not explicit and considering the subject matter (molestation) that was quite a relief, it doesn’t have a definitive point of view, at least not as far as I’m concerned and in the end it wasn’t nearly as controversial as it might have appeared; again in my estimation at least this was all somewhat of a surprise.
Plot: Set in the sixties, Doubt takes place in a catholic parish in Bronx, New York. The lead role is played Philip Seymore Hoffman who is compelling as always. From the first time “Donald” and “Father Flynn” (Hoffman) met on-screen I felt myself cringing at what might be depicted, a strong indicator of how well the groundwork had been laid for the events to come. Meryl Streep delivers a strong performance as usual but perhaps above and beyond her typical work of late, this was classic Streep if not, in a strange way even better. Streep’s character “Sister Aloysius Beauvier” is a hard nosed, no nonsense disciplinarian who’d as soon knock you senseless as suffer indignation from you, the casting certainly wasn’t where Doubt fell down.
The slow build up of events was a welcome change, all too often and especially lately I’ve seen a rush to hurry plot lines along. That said… roughly 40 minutes into the film I found myself almost ready, strike that anxious to get to the point. Without giving too much away I’ll just say the title of the film is no accident and in my estimation illustrates a disconnect between the trailer and what actually unfolds on-screen. Again, make no mistake the cast is superb but its akin to gathering up the worlds finest race horses to fill a petting zoo.
In a nutshell, I felt Doubt promised a bang yet barely delivered a whimper. I’m not entirely disappointed mind you, its nice to see Hollywood take, ah I almost spoiled it there. Lets just say even though the film delivered a surprising twist, ultimately that twist may have been the films undoing.
Sight & Sound: Doubt certainly doesn’t disappoint in the visuals department, it had a very nice image with strong primary colors and good overall color saturation. Given the fact that nuns and priests weigh heavily in the cast, it should come as no surprise there are a lot of scenes with black and white clothing. Of course those high contrast scenes can be difficult to transfer properly but I’m happy to say that wasn’t a concern here. The transfer boasts strong, deep, dark blacks, but not at the detriment of the white balance, the alter boys gowns were very lifelike with oodles of contrast between the two halves, no small feat with home video.
The DTS-HD 5.1 soundtracks audio quality was certainly adequate but hardly noteworthy. The individual voices all exhibited their own unique tonal quality and there was an appropriate sense of space and resonance present in the pulpit scenes. Overall the audio quality was on-par with the rest of the disc and more importantly on-par with the story and characters; it was quiet, reserved and hushed in many cases.
Extras: Doubt’s extras are sparse but sufficient given the subject matter. There’s a “From Stage to Screen” feature that gives a bit of history about the story and the process of transforming the play into a motion picture, “The Cast of Doubt” (I’ll be you’ll never guess what that ones about) features a question and answer session with the cast, “Scoring Doubt” explores the music, there’s also a audio commentary from writer and director John Patrick Shanley. The last feature I watched was titled “The Sisters of Charity” which explores some of the real life inspirations behind the characters in the movie. This feature also explores some of the historical references for the changes alluded to between Steep and Hoffman’s characters during their meeting in the principles office.
Overall: Great visuals, a stellar cast and fine cinematography doesn’t always translate into a great movie, in a perfect world it would but there’s still that pesky bit about a the story. Sure ‘Doubt’ has a story, and in some rights a good story, but again perhaps partly due to the hype or even my own bias I was expecting more. That said I would still recommend ‘Doubt‘ based on the knockout performances alone, I think regardless of how you feel about the film at the end you’ll take something away, and that alone is more than most films of late can boast.
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Video: MPEG-4 1080p
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Theatrical Release Date: December 25, 2008
Blu-ray Release Date: April 7, 2009
Run Time: 104 minutes