Doubt 2009 ***

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Plays like The Big Funk made John Patrick Shanley’s name; his cinematic output, from Moonstruck to Joe Vs The Volcano, is highly idiosyncratic. Adapting his own play Doubt for the big screen, he also turned director and coaxed excellent performances from Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Phillip Seymour Hoffman for this absorbing drama. Set in 1964, Streep plays Sister Aloyisus the matriarchal school principlal who is alerted by Sister James (Adams) to the behaviour of a charismatic priest Father Flynn, played by Hoffman. Their concern is the attention that Flynn is playing to the school’s first black student; Shanley’s concern is not so much to investigate Flynn’s actions, but to consider the whole nature of guilt and doubt. The actors are more than capable of handling the long dialogue scenes, and Viola Davis contributes an explosive cameo as the boy’s mother.

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