The Written Work of Adam Krause

Hoffman leaves no doubts 


Style: Editorial

Originally written for Static Multimedia



  With the month of May peaking its warm, sunny head around the corner, the anticipation of summer blockbusters in all of their exploding, car-chasing glory is the only thing that can be found on the minds of moviegoers these days.  A film from this past Oscar season with no wins to its name being released on DVD is hardly anything to pop some corn over.  However, if you do decide to rent or purchase the newly released Doubt, you will be treated to a very good film with a great performance from one of the greatest actors working today.  No, I’m not talking about Meryl Streep.  Dare I say it, I believe Philip Seymour Hoffman’s dark and unsettling performance does in fact trump the all-powerful Ms. Streep and is the main attraction to this thought provoking movie.

Like I stated above, Miramax films has just released the movie Doubt on DVD and Blu-Ray this past week.  The well-known film was set at a catholic school in 1964 Bronx, New York.  The plot contained very dark subject matter that revolved around a nun who believes without a doubt that the priest of the church that she serves is having inappropriate relations with a young student who attends school there.  The movie was written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, who also wrote the play that the film was based on.

Doubt was aggressively marketed and billed by Miramax as an Oscar contender for the 2009 Academy Awards.  Despite the highly criticized ending and the slow-paced narrative, Doubt received high praise for it’s ensemble cast and the outstanding performances they each delivered.   Performances that were in fact honored with four Oscar nominations in the acting categories for cast members Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

In the film, Hoffman plays Father Flynn, a priest who is a seemingly down-to-earth man with a kind heart and sense of humor that both his pupils and colleagues appreciate.  When an unusual relationship forms between Father Flynn and the only black student at school, suspicion is sparked amongst the Sisters of Charity and the rumors erupt.  It is then that Sister Aloysius begins her quest to abolish him from the church for she is certain he has done unspeakable acts to the young boy.

After giving Doubt a second viewing on DVD, I uncovered a couple of things I really did not pick up on in the theater.  First, the ending isn't that bad, but rather poignant in the questioning of faith among the film’s deepest believers.  And secondly, I discovered that Philip Seymour Hoffman is the only actor who truly lived up to the acting hype that Doubt was so heavily built on.  He is the only one who truly blew me away with his onscreen presence.   

Hell, I’m just going to say it.  Meryl Streep’s performance as Sister Aloysius is completely over the top.  I never found myself believing that those are the actions a devout nun would actually take in those circumstances.  Especially in 60s, the time the film was set.  I don’t care how well she knows people. 

And come on, let’s face it.  Any young Hollywood actress who has the ability to look sad and make her voice high and squeaky could have played Amy Adams’ role of Sister James.  Viola Davis is good as the mother, but is only in the movie for mere twelve minutes.  Philip Seymour Hoffman is the only one out of the cast who deserved that Oscar nomination this past February.  And no offense to the late great Heath Ledger and that amazing performance, but he could have easily won for the category of Best Supporting Actor.

In an interview done for the film, Meryl Streep was asked what she thought of her costar’s work in Doubt.  She responded quite accurately in stating that Mr. Hoffman “brings so many layers of humanity to the parts that he plays.”  Well done, Meryl, couldn’t have said it any better myself.  What other actor can make you feel such remorse for a character despite the fact that he most likely has done this awful, unspeakable act.  In the scene where Father Flynn confronts Sister Aloysius about her certainty of his guilt, you want to be cheering on Ms. Streep and her vicious threats towards the priest.  Instead, you only feel pity for Father Flynn and desperately want to believe in his innocence.

John Patrick Shanely, the director of the Doubt, said he wanted Philip Seymour Hoffman for the role of Father Flynn because he is “one of the most surprising, mercurial and powerful actors” out there.  This is evident in the way Hoffman composed the character of Father Flynn.  He made him a compassionate, sensitive man that many people would find appealing as a priest.  I know if he were my priest, with what the film gave me to judge his character, I would say he is a great guy.  And that’s what’s powerful about it.  Because these priests, these men are able to walk amongst society so easily that you could never imagine what they do behind closed door.  You could never suspect what monstrous things they are capable of.  And if someone told you, that initial positive impression that you had of the man would leave you with an overwhelming feeling of…doubt.

You can see for yourself if you haven’t already.  Doubt is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.  You can also catch Philip Seymour Hoffman this August in his new film The Boat That Rocked in which he plays a radio DJ onboard a rogue ship that illegally broadcasts the pop music of the 60s to a jazz-loving Britain.