Monday, 17 February 2014

Doubt (2008)

Following Cate Blanchett's lovely acceptance speech for the Best Actress award (or 'Lead Actress' as they seem to want to call it these days) at last night's BAFTAs, in which she kindly and tearfully dedicated her prize to Philip Seymour Hoffman, it was a moment of fitting serendipity to see that BBC1 followed their coverage of the ceremony with a screening of Doubt



Doubt is the kind of keenly observed intimate and quietly engrossing film I enjoy watching. I find I quite enjoy films that were originally stage plays (as indeed this was) and don't find the subsequent transitions an issue in the way that some reviewers or critics do, or have cause to complain about the film being 'too stagey' Like any other artistic medium, I guess film equally stands or falls on the ideas behind it and the skill and talent placed within it. Doubt, for me, is a prime example of a solid idea orchestrated by some utterly skillful players, because at the heart of the film lies the stunning three-way masterclass of acting between Meryl Streep, Hoffman and Amy Adams.

I must admit here and now that I'm not the biggest fan of Streep;  though I can admit she's a great actress and I heartily enjoy many of her films and performances but I do find she often overplays her hand with a penchant for the dressing up box, accents and character quirks and foibles. These criticisms are once again evident here but her character is such a bold, obnoxiously intolerant and determined one that these tricks do seem right for the part. They're there for us to immediately dislike or find dark humour within before presumably slowly discovering the caring human beneath them as her doubt becomes central to the film.

Hoffman however was an actor who never relied on such actorly mannerisms and had a habit of creating utterly believable and often vulnerable characters in a totally naked manner that was awe inspiring. For Hoffman it was always in the eyes or delivery of the dialogue and it's interesting to mark the difference in styles between him and Streep in their character's final head to head scene; watch how she clutches an item of clothing to her breast - almost maternally like a mother with her child - when she discusses the innocence and vulnerability of the boy Hoffman's character is accused of interfering with. Then see how he comes back at her with nothing but the rapid movement in his tear filled eyes. 

Amy Adams, as the younger and perhaps more mainstream of the trio,  perhaps doesn't get the plaudits her co-stars receive and yet there's a wonderfully engaging naivety and openness to her young nun who stumbles upon the moment that raises Streep's suspicions. It's a performance that the audience can empathise with and is a steady and fragile constant in the maelstrom that will subsequently occur between the core duo as the plot progresses. Then of course there's Viola Davis, who turns in a truly affecting performance as the mother of the boy who may or may not be the victim of Hoffman's sexual advances. It's as much of if indeed not more of an injustice that she gets overlooked in this piece as Adams might perhaps does.  

The direction from John Patrick Shanley (who wrote the play) is interesting, trading on the motifs of the fickle and autumnal New York weather with the swirling dead leaves a metaphor for the aimless flight of gossip, as well as offering us some interesting Sidney J Furie-esque askew camera angles.

Ultimately Doubt isn't a film that offers us clear answers and I admire it for that. I have my own theory and it's refreshing to see a film that is brave enough to encourage its audience to do that in this day and age. What is clear is that no character in this film will ever be the same again following the events depicted and that's a big thing in what can easily be overlooked as a small movie.

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