Sunday, December 28, 2008

I'm trying not to say, "No 'Doubt' About It..."

All ridiculously lame jokes aside...Doubt is small, spare, and utterly spectacular. It is one of the most enthralling movie experiences of the year.

Mark it down as another likely Oscar win for Meryl Streep...but this is no Music of the isn't even just another Devil Wears Prada, even though that was quite a fabulous performance. Streep's work here marks what is likely her best performance of the decade.

Also mark it down as another landmark piece of work from Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is really the crowned king of actors at the moment. After a mind-bending, earth-shattering role in Charlie Kaufman's widely misunderstood, completely underestimated, arguably revolutionary Synecdoche, New York, Hoffman somehow comes off as simultaneously bullyish and scared, at once smug and humble. The ambiguity of the work is stunning...and will likely not get as much attention as it should, given the push for the equally brilliant Streep.

Viola Davis is getting all kinds of buzz for her 10 minutes of screen time...and it is totally deserved. Amy Adams is getting snubbed all over the place...she brings her typical sunny innocence to the pivotal role of Sister James, the story's moral barometer, but it is not simply a typecast performance; this character is wrought with tension, inner turmoil, and, unsurprisingly, doubt. It is a great performance.

John Patrick Shanley, writer of the original stage version of Doubt, adapted and directed the film version, making his first directorial effort since Joe Versus the Volcano, if you can believe that. His visual skills are not flashy and will not gain much attention, but what is so remarkable about his work is that he--as a stage person would--gets out of the way and allows the actors to simply unleash. They build the tension to such a degree that the dialogue exchanges in Doubt are more palpably intense than most of the year's high-octane action sequences. But Shanley also adds visual touches--subtle but powerful--that communicate the film's subtext with graceful clarity. On the visual storytelling end Shanley has the added help of Dylan Tichenor's masterful editing and Roger Deakins' polished and professional cinematography, and the trio work in tandem to create a seamless, affecting visual experience.

Doubt is small but huge. It is subtle but explosive. Herein lie themes so loaded with textual and subtextual implications that K wondered if perhaps the film, brilliant as it was, tried to tackle a little too much. But therein lies the film's message--there are so many angles, so many points of view, so many lives being lived simultaneously in this world. It is impossible for any of us to be certain about anything other than what we've seen...and even then we could question ourselves. The collective experience of our lives--our hopes and fears, outward virtues and hidden sins, the thin line between the person we project to the world and the feelings we keep trapped inside--is the unflinching, immovable force of life (a profound common denominator this film shares with Synecdoche, NY, even though empirically the films couldn't be more different). We are all in this together...and we all have no idea.

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