There is no doubt in my mind that John Patrick Shanley is a brilliant writer. His Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Doubt”, also went on to win the Tony for Best Play and has now spawned a big screen adaptation starring three of Hollywood’s most gifted stars, namely Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. Getting the man who created the characters and who buried such profound dilemmas deep within his words to bring his own play to life on screen must have seemed like a scenario only the angels could have arranged for in heaven.
Sadly, the results are more purgatorial than heavenly. Shanley’s unique understanding of the material is evident in every impeccable performance given but his lack of experience as a filmmaker (his only previous experience directing was in 1990 with “Joe Versus the Volcano”) ultimately leaves the film feeling flatter than one would hope, especially when the material calls for a hellishly passionate fire. Still, given the gravity of the subject matter and the manner in which the cast delivers it, I doubt anyone will care.
The reality is that Shanley’s inexperience only stops a good film from being great. The genius of the script itself is not only engaging but challenging and provocative. Just as the day begins with mass for so many, especially more so in 1964, so should a film that questions the very foundation of religious belief – faith. As the young alter boys prepare to assist with the serving of mass, one may wonder why any boys are still allowed to become alter boys. The image itself is now almost intrinsically linked to pedophilia and abuse. Still, boys continue to volunteer because they have faith and they are looking for a way to express it.
Once the parishioners have taken their seats, they hear a sermon that casts doubt over the decency of the decisions they make on a daily basis. It is ironic really, considering they go to this very same place to alleviate these doubts. It is this constant duality and questioning that makes “Doubt” so meaningful and faith so fragile.
Review by Joseph Bélanger