January 11, 2009 at 3:58 am (Movies and TV)

The Devil Wears a Nun Suit Doubt will make former Catholic School students squirm in their seats, remembering the corporal punishment and the scary nuns and the forced dancing in the gym to dorky samba records. It will make everyone else squirm for other reasons.

There is a popular card game known as “I Doubt It” (which our family calls “Bullshit”) which is basically a bluffing game. Imagine that game where the stakes of the game mean something different to every player.  It would change the game quite a bit. Doubt explores that studio space.

This picture had to take place in the early 1960’s, because that was the last time when the majority of people were free from cynicism and were more willing to believe the best about people than the worst. The clothes and cars and references to the JFK assassination don’t establish the time period half as well as the outmoded school intercom and a nun’s crusade against the evil of the ballpoint pen. The use of pathetic fallacy was effective in the film, though the editing was oddly spliced in places.

When asked after the movie whether I believe Meryl Streep will win Best Actress, I responded that because the last two roles I have seen her in have made her so thoroughly evil (this, and The Devil Wears Prada), I have to watch Mamma Mia just to make sure Meryl can still play someone likeable, that evil for her is a demonstration of range. All of the hype about her performance is deserved, but I have to say I still find myself wanting to smack that doe-eyed look from Amy Adams’ face. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is adequate and likeable here, which makes one question whether you should believe someone because they’re likeable, or whether believing someone you can’t stand (like Streep’s character) is even possible.

Not the most entertaining of movies, Doubt does accomplish what it sets out to do, which is to ask questions about right and wrong; discretion and its use in concert with big-picture, peripheral considerations; feminism and the patriarchal leadership of the Catholic church; racism; proof versus gut feeling and the importance of each. While the picture stays true to its name and never does settle the main concern one way or the other, I found the stronger lesson in the character played by Hoffman. In the words of Kenny Rogers, you gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.

Doubt will not be a serious contender for Best Picture, but rather, is a case of one standout acting performance and an above-average ensemble in a mediocre, uncomfortable movie.


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