The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )
Audio/Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )
Studio and Year: Miramax/Buena Vista - 2008
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Feature running time: 103 Minutes
Disc Format: BD-50
Encoding: AVC (MPEG-4)
Video Aspect: 1.85:1
Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Viola Davis
Written & Directed by: John Patrick Shanley
Music by: Howard Shore
Region Code: A
Blu-ray Disc release Date: April 7, 2009
"Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty"
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.
Doubt is a powerful film that touches on the subjects of morality, judgment, compassion, truth, authority, and abuse. The film is based on the stage production and focuses on the question of a relationship between a priest and a 12 year old student. The story is set in 1964 in a small parochial school that is attached to an inner city parish that is predominantly Irish/Italian. The boy, Donald Miller, is the school's first black student. The school is run by the Sisters of Charity who are lead by its principal Sister Aloysius (Streep). She is a stern disciplinarian who rules with an iron fist. For the students and faculty there is no question with respect to her authority. Donald's teacher is a young nun by the name of Sister James (Adams). She is a little naïve but knows and cares about her students. She is honest, compassionate, and forward thinking (as much as she can be) in her approach to teaching.
Father Flynn (Hoffman) is the parish chaplain and teaches at the school. As such he is above Sister Aloysius in the hierarchy and answers to the local monsignor. Donald is an alter server at Sunday mass and does pretty well in school. There doesn't appear to be any obvious repercussions from his enrollment at the school. He and Father Flynn seem to have formed a bit of a bond and he confides in him that he would someday like to become a priest. Father Flynn gives him a small magnetic toy/trinket and genuinely seems to care about Donald. One day Donald is called from class to go to the rectory to meet with Father Flynn. He returns later and Sister James notices that he appears to be acting differently. A week later she informs Sister Aloysius of the occurrence and that she feels that something isn't right. Sister Aloysius chastises her for not coming forward immediately. She tells Sister James that she suspected that there was something about Father Flynn and that he is probably targeting Donald because he is a loner and easy prey. Sister James seems shocked by what Sister Aloysius implies might be going on and suggests that they ask Father Flynn because there is probably a simple explanation. They approach him regarding the matter and Father Flynn is reluctant to divulge the reason for the meeting. This further incites Sister Aloysius and she begins a fervent campaign to expose the truth and rid the school of Father Flynn.
This is the crux of the conflict in the story. As it plays out there are little ambiguous clues that could be considered evidence on either side of the equation. Sister James is sort of caught in middle and would rather believe that this is a huge misunderstanding but she can't deny what she saw or the certainty projected by Sister Aloysius who seems to speak from experience. The reason for the meeting is soon revealed which leads to further questions which could have serious consequences for Donald. Sister Aloysius must decide between his best interests and those of the school as she attempts to expose what truly happened. Before it is over she will find that doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty.This film is truly a character study that examines how life's experiences can leave an indelible mark that forever effects are perceptions of others. The story ultimately leaves the decision about what happened up to the viewer. I found that to be a little unsatisfying but ultimately interesting and thought provoking. The performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis were marvelous. Davis really had only one scene but it was truly impressive to watch. Meryl Streep was simply a cut above. Every time she was onscreen I found myself transfixed as her presence commanded your attention. The scene where she confronts Father Flynn was riveting. The film's stage based roots were apparent as the sets were few and the number of players limited but it fit perfectly. The story certainly offers much food for thought on a number of levels and is one of the best (if not THE best) dramas of the year.
The rating is for some material that may be inappropriate for children under 13.
AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100 / EXCELLENT = 83-91 / GOOD = 74-82 / AVERAGE = 65-73 / BELOW AVERAGE = under 65
**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Low frequency extension:
- Surround Sound presentation:
- Dialogue Reproduction:
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Black level/Shadow detail:
- Color reproduction:
Doubt comes to Blu-ray Disc from Disney/Buena Vista featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 25 mbps and lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio sound that has an average bitrate of 3.2 mbps.
Here is another solid high definition video presentation from Disney. Images are exquisitely detailed, with deep, gradational blacks and strong contrast that enhances the film's elements. The bright green vestments worn by Father Flynn had a vivid, luminous quality that stood out in stark contrast against the majority of the period clothing used in the film which didn't offer much in the way of bright colors. The sepia and neutral tones in the interior of the school and church are rendered cleanly and look quite natural. Flesh tones have excellent tonal delineation, with the fairer complexions appearing just shy of ashen. This was apparently intentional to depict the lack of sun exposure by the nuns and clergy as well the fact that the story takes place during the cold weather months. Resolution is excellent as images have a visually satisfying and crisp three dimensional quality that enhances perception in both close ups and wide angle camera pans. Sharpness is rarely called into question and any subtle variations appear innate to the photography rather related to the encoding. I saw no signs of video related anomalies or artifacts.
This film relies heavily on the spoken word and the DTS-HD MA soundtrack handled it with crystalline articulation and descriptive intonation that allowed even minute changes in vocal inflection to be discernible. The presentation maintained a frontal perspective but broadened occasionally to effectively simulate a driving rain storm or the open echoed expanse of the church. Dynamics were noteworthy as evidenced by the depth of the aforementioned storm, the palpable intensity of raised voices or the strength derived from Howard Shore's music. The fidelity inherent in the recording appeared intact as the soundtrack had excellent tonal balance, defining clarity, and high level detail that enhanced auricular minutia.
- Audio commentary by Director John Patrick Shanley
- (HD) The cast of Doubt - A discussions with Amy Adams, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis and Philip Seymour Hoffman - 14 minutes
- (HD) Scoring Doubt - A discussion with composer Howard Shore - 4 minutes
- (HD) From stage to screen - The cast, crew and technical advisors discuss making the film - 19 minutes
- (HD) The Sisters of Charity - 6 minute documentary hosted by Meryl Streep and John Patrick Shanley
Doubt is a memorable film not only because of its subject matter but because of its well written screenplay and powerfully portrayed characters. It is a film that is worth revisiting as it contains enough open interpretation, ambiguity, subtle humor and superb acting to provide plenty of food for discussion and debate. Its debut on Blu-ray Disc from Disney/Buena Vista offers excellent high definition audio/video quality and an average set of bonus features that left me wanting. I suspect that we will see a collector's edition release in the future that will offer a more comprehensive set of bonus supplements. In the meantime this is a highly recommended film that looks and sounds great on Blu-ray.
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