Shadow Under Doubt

Doubt (2008)

There are movies, there are plays, and then there are plays made into movies.  I don’t know enough about  theater production to argue what works for stage versus what  translates to screen.  But I know enough about film to say that making an effective version of what was previously a play requires more than bringing a good story to a broader audience.  Doubt is about a modernist Catholic priest, Philip Seymour Hoffman, clashing with a reactionary nun, Meryl Streep, who accuses the priest of sexually abusing a student of the boys school at which they work.  I haven’t seen the play, but it’s a good one.  What I mean is, the story balances on a brilliantly written  teetertauter of circumstantial evidence, indirect accusations, and ulterior motives.  Whether or not the priest is guilty is left to interpretation by both the players and the audience.    It’s an excellent drama  and the two lead roles are played masterfully, particularly in their one-on-one scenes.  Philip Seymour Hoffman has through sheer force of talent (certainly not by distinctive looks) become one of our finest actors.  All that taken into account, I still  have a requirement for plays turned into movies which is that they have to bring something to medium that can’t be done on stage.

For example, back in the 1990s Kenneth Branagh directed a 4-hour long unabridged movie of Hamlet.  The chutzpa!  It was great because of Branagh’s incorporation of the medium of film to tell Hamlet in a way unconceived.   Doubt’s playwright, John Patrick Shanley, also directed the movie version.  While having an impressive c.v.of plays, screenplays, an Oscar, a Tony, and a Pulitzer, Shanley’s only other film directing credit was Joe Versus The Volcano in 1992.  I didn’t see Doubt the play, but I liked it.  As for the movie Doubt, it’s an unremarkable effort.

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