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If there was ever a question as to whom the finest actress of the last few decades is; Meryl Streep has now removed all doubt. She continues her habit of taking a role that would be average for most and escalating it to new heights of emotion and character. In her latest film, Doubt, Streep pulls the rug out from any other actress who thought they had a shot at this years Oscar award. There simply is nun better. In fact this film should make award voters go back and revise their “thought I was finished” ballots.

Doubt is written and directed by John Patrick Shanley who also wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name. Shanley does a fabulous job of keeping it true to its stage roots without sacrificing the big screen necessities. The sounds and settings reflect the tone of the characters and the period of the story very well. It moves like a play, smoothly and simply, allowing the dialogue to be the meat and muscle. Doubt is set at St. Nicholas, a Catholic school and church in 1964, the Bronx NY. The head priest, Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is trying to run his parish with love and compassion; an element that seems out of line by one of the head nuns, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep). When she suspects Father Flynn of abusing one of the schools only young black boys it becomes a battle of morality, authority and emotion.

Doubt proves, unquestionably, that the key to any films success is writing and the ability of the main actors to make the writing live and breath. Take away one of those elements and you have possibly a decent film at best. When the two come together in perfection you have a stellar film that wins awards and makes people step back and ask why can’t all films be this good. Amy Adams (Sister James) joins Streep and Hoffman as a young nun who teaches the children with a naïve purity and heart. When she gets caught up in the drama she has to decide what constitutes truth if there is no proof. Can what you see be enough? Or do you need faith either to believe or even faith to deny. Adams is a preeminent little actress who has the ability to step it up when needed. June Bug was no fluke and do not let her stream of mindless comedies give you the wrong impression. She completes this triangle of perfect performances that will possibly sweep many category nominations.

There is a message too, many to be exact, in the rapid release of dialogue and conversations. Father Flynn carries much of what is happening to him into his sermons. We hear things about tolerance, doubt, fears and faith. We see a man dealing with all of this while trying to teach those around him. The power of gossip and ungrounded suspicion is a cancerous force that unchecked can cause remarkable destruction. There is certainly life and death in the power of the tongue. And a stray word sets fire like a spark.

Doubt is rated PG-13 for thematic material. There is nothing remotely objectionable about this film but those under 13 may get lost in the dialogue and story. Like a well acted stage play there isn’t much visually to keep the attention of the younger movie goer. It moves at a nice clip and the superb writing and performances are a must see for anyone who calls themselves a film fan. The question of Flynn’s innocence or guilt stays long after the final credits. This film is sure to strike up discussion and opinion among its viewers. Like an intelligent cat and mouse game Flynn and Beauvier battle to the end. And in most cases where suspicion rules, there are no winners. I give Doubt 4.5 out of 5 Christmas carols.

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Review copyright 2008 Mungleshow Productions. Used by Permission.

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