With its bristling topicality, ritzy cast and Roger Deakinss gracefully bleak cinematography, John Patrick Shanleys adaptation of his 2005 play about an old-school Catholic nun in the early 1960s who goes after a priest she suspects of sexual abuse, is prime Oscar bait. In Shanleys entertainingly callow hands, provocation passes for complexity, ushered in periodically by waves of premonitory winter weather that coats the Bronx parochial school where a timid young sister (Amy Adams), unnerved by what looks like unusually close contact between the schools well-liked priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and its first black pupil, reports her misgivings to the school principal, Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep). Before you can say independent inquiry, off goes the bonneted termagant to grind the machinery of blind justice. Though Shanley throws in some clues to enlarge our perceptions of nun and priest, Doubt is only marginally about moral uncertainty, which in any case he confuses with a preposterous moral relativism. Its more about the sins of a nosy old biddy pulling out the stops when going through the official channels of a male-dominated Catholic Church would get her nowhere. Knowing what we know now, I was left wishing there had been more vigilant old bats around like Sister Aloysius to shield Catholic children from the predators within.
Starts: Jan. 23. Daily, 2009