I was at a movie festival seminar years ago in Lake Placid that discussed plays being made into movies being made back into plays (and vice versa). At that seminar, the playwright Doug Wright (at least I think he said it) made the point that drama started when a caveman stood up around the campfire and told a story; in other words, drama started with words. Movies, on the other hand, began in silence with the story told by images.
I thought of this as I left the movie Doubt tonight. John Patrick Shanley directed the film of his screenplay which he adapted from his play. Perhaps he should have had another director. Sometimes I think it's good to have another eye to assist in shaping a story.
It's quite obvious from the movie that it began as a play--it just had that feel to it. Some plays transfer quite successfully to film but again, maybe with another director.
The script still has its strength but much of it was lost in the images on screen trying to support the words. But here's the thing: in a play, you don't have supporting images and the words stand alone. So I felt that the movie got in the way of the story--Mr. Shanley focused so much on wind blowing and feathers flying that he forgot to just tell the story. Don't get me wrong, the images were great as were the scenes where one could really hear the great script. It's just that the two--the movie images and the script--worked against each other. I'm not sure if I'm making sense so I'll move onto acting.
Meryl Streep (Sister Aloysius) and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Father Flynn) are a joy to watch on screen but I never felt that their characters grew at all during the movie. In theater we call this the character's arc and Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn pretty much flat lined throughout the film. It didn't make any of their scenes less interesting but when a character holds the same convictions at the start of the movie as at the end, it's kinda boring. Oh, I know Sister Aloysius has that moment of "doubt" at the very end of the film but it really came out of left field and at that point I didn't care so much about her.
And, there was the big confrontation scene between Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn that didn't really make any sense to me. At one point he appears about to confess and then she says she's going to get him and the next thing I know he's leaving that parish. I think I got distracted by Sister Aloysius holding her cross up and then crying and then saying something really snarky and adjusting her crucifix. See, those damn images got in my way of the story.
The only character who really changes during the film is Sister James played by Amy Adams. She plays a young nun who first suspects Father Flynn and then is convinced that he is innocent. Ms. Adams did a great job but she has played quite a few of those wide-eyed innocents lately.
So I enjoyed the film but I wouldn't say it's Best Oscar material. Viola Davis may get a nod for the mother role but while she did a good job, she didn't have a lot of screen time. I was just lamenting to my sister that it's so much harder to find women in good leading and supporting roles. The Academy is reduced to nominating actresses who are on screen for 10 minutes! And don't get me started on Nicole Kidman winning a Best Actress Oscar when she was on screen for less that 1/3'd of the movie--I'll save that for another post, entitled "My Issues with Oscar."