"Doubt" Blu-ray Review
April 03, 2009 by Zach Demeter
There was little buzz to be found about this film while it was in production (aside from the involvement of three of Hollywood’s biggest and brightest), but once the film began screening for critics, Doubt quickly made waves. While acclaim was hardly unanimous among critics or viewers, one thing was for certain: this film had some of the most spectacular acting to grace the silver screen in a long time. The Academy took notice of this, nominating the four big stars of the film in each of their respective categories and also giving it a nod for Best Adapted Screenplay. Although it sadly won none of the categories it was placed in, the exposure the film received will only be for the better as audiences discover just what an amazing film Doubt really is.
Set in 1964 at St. Nicholas Church in the Bronx, Fr. Brendan Flynn’s (Philip Seymour Hoffman) progressive views and charismatic presence have won him the respect and admiration of the congregation. At the parish school, principal Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) keeps her students in line with old-fashioned fear and intimidation. When young Sister James (Amy Adams) shares with Sister Aloysius her concern that that Father Flynn has "taken an interest" in twelve-year-old Donald Miller (Joseph Foster), the school's "first Negro student," the older nun launches her own investigation. Determined to protect every one of her charges, Sister Aloysius attempts to use the evidence she discovers to have Flynn removed from the school. John Patrick Shanley’s finely shaded script takes audiences through a spectrum of truth, emotion and belief, and asks if any decision is ever free from doubt.
I really didn’t know what to expect from this film when going into it. Often the films that make the biggest noise at the Oscars are ones that are either touted way too much or simply films that I don’t find all that appealing. I expected Doubt to be some kind of artsy piece that wouldn’t appeal to me, but I have to say—I’ve never been so riveted and caught up in a film in a long time. Rarely does a film grip you from the start and refuse to let go, but every minute of this film I watched with an eagerness I’ve experienced with few films. Whenever I had to pause it to go do something real quick I made sure I came back as soon as possible so that my time in between viewings was as short as possible. It’s really just an intriguing and riveting film from start to finish and I am genuinely surprised that the film has below an 80% on a lot of sites, but that can be chalked up to the mere fact that the film is not very satisfying when it comes to answering the questions it poses.
But that is also what I enjoyed so much about the film. We don’t know the outcome of any of the films ambiguous questions. It’s two days after I watched the film for the first time and I’m still thinking about it at random moments, wondering if Hoffman’s character really did what he was accused of or if Streep was overly picky and simply had it out for him. Not only is it a brilliant balance of both sides of the issue in the film, but it also is driven by two of the finest actors in Hollywood. I’ve long been a fan of Hoffman and he was nothing short of riveting here. And Streep? I really hadn’t seen her in a whole lot of films that she was nominated for, but I have to say that she was absolutely fantastic here as well. Amy Adams also brought an innocence to the film that helped give the audience someone to relate too—we certainly wanted to believe in the good of everyone involved here, and Adams character’s slow twists and turns from the beginning to the end of the film are really just another thing that helps make the film the fantastic piece of work that it is.
It’s still difficult to dissect my thoughts on this film even days later, simply because there’s so much to dwell upon. The film is really set up in such a way that you’re either going to believe one side or the other, but I’m actually finding myself at an impasse and really just unable to take one side of the story. Perhaps it’s just because of my love of Hoffman’s other films that I don’t want him portrayed as the “interested” priest, but there’s evidence throughout the film that constantly points towards him, yet we never really have anything that says otherwise. It’s a very interesting film that really reveals to the viewer how prejudiced or quick to judge they are when it comes to individuals and that, combined with the superb acting in the film, just makes it all the more compelling to view.
There’s so much to go through when it comes to this film. Even if the story had somehow been a grave disappointment, the acting more than makes up for any shortcomings it would have had. But instead everything about this film is tightly knitted; there isn’t a saggy scene or hanging corner of a character that is left out. It’s just a very well constructed film and while it is definitely left open-ended, it really is just a fantastic piece all around. Music, directing, cinematography, acting…it has it all.
Overall I may have oversold this film in its brilliance, but when I’m blown away by a film like I was with this one, I can’t help but gush. Strictly speaking it is a frustrating story in that it divulges nothing and is based purely on speculation, but that is also what I find so intriguing about it. Those who need to have a resolution to their films may not find it as satisfying as I did, but no matter how you cut it, Doubt is a compelling story from beginning to end. Highly Recommended.
Doubt arrives in a standard Elite Blu-ray case complete with a reflective foil and embossed slipcover. Included inside the set is the disc itself (which actually has disc art! Just a repeat of the cover, but at least it’s not a grey wash again) as well as advertisements for the Blu-ray format and a flyer for the Miramax Films Insider program. Menus for the film are very nicely done and easy to navigate.
Video arrives in the form of an AVC encoded 1.78:1 1080p transfer and it looks, as can be imagined by a modern production, flawless. The detail is remarkable on this film and I found the scene with the feathers particularly beautiful to look at, as each individual feather could be clearly seen and defined. There isn’t a whole lot of color in the film, as the black and white uniforms are often met with stormy or snowy days, so any color in the film stems solely from the priests garments. Audio is a fantastic 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that really comes alive during the thunderstorm sequences, but the dialogue driven film is kept mostly to the front channels. I will say that the sermon sequences, however, did have a great deal of ambience going on with them—the echoing spilled into the surrounds, creating a very immersive feel that made you feel as if you were actually in the church.
Extras include a Feature Commentary with writer/director John Patrick Shanely which is really a great listen, although it can get a bit dry at times. Still, Shanely talks about everything from the earliest stages to the final days of production on the film and drops plenty of interesting tidbits along the way, so if you enjoyed the film as much as I did, then you’ll likely find this track pretty interesting. Moving on we have a Doubt: From Stage to Screen (19:09, 1080p) featurette that details the transitioning of Doubt from the theater to the silver screen. Next is a short piece titled Scoring Doubt (4:40, 1080p) which follows composer Howard Shore around to discuss his inspirations for the score for the film. The Cast of Doubt (13:53, 1080i) is a bit of a fluff piece that was conducted by a magazine. This would actually be a very good extra if it wasn’t overburdened with clips from the film—it seemed one popped up every minute or two. Finally The Sisters of Charity (6:29, 1080p) talks with Streep and Shanley as they discuss the interviews conducted with real nuns before the shooting of the film.
Overall the extras for a film of this caliber are adequate—an in-depth making of would be overkill, but the commentary more than makes up for any real on-set footage. In the end this film will definitely get some extra play time from me and in that regard it comes Highly Recommended. Few dramas of this caliber can be viewed again and again, but due to the open-ended nature of the film, it leaves plenty of room for your own interpretation, adding to the replay value.
Doubt arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on April 7th.