Doubt is not the most explosive, heartwarming, or exciting film that came out over Christmas. At times very quiet, and at other times extremely and dramatically loud, the film creates a haunting, unsettling affect. With solid performances and beautiful cinematography (though not necessarily the most creative, with twisted angles representing the disorder the characters find themselves in) Doubt is, overall, an interesting film that deals with spirituality in personally pleasing ways.
A lot of critics have been really hard on Doubt, claiming that it is merely a play adapted to the big screen without any changes making it significant in the film form. Since I am generally a theatre lover almost as much as a film lover, I don’t feel especially cheated by this aspect of the film. The stark settings make for a more claustrophobic feel. When help is desperately needed, no one goes outside of the priesthood for the answers, relying instead on the disturbingly immovable patriarchy. I’m not sure why John Patrick Shanley felt the need to adapt the film, other than the desire for a larger audience. The dialogue seems to stay in monologue form, with long, detailed conversations between characters. This is not an example your screenwriting 101 teacher would use for the “show not tell” principle, with Philip Seymour Hoffman both telling and showing little and yet talking a lot.
That said, I feel that there are differences in form that necessitates differences in theme and how the themes are portrayed. The theorist Bela Balazs talks about the power of the close up and its uniqueness to film. While a play is able to make broad statements, the close up might enable a more personal, specific idea of spirituality. Likewise, color palates, those annoyingly twisted camera angles, and sound and scarcity of music create their own affects.
Reacting to the fairly negative blogging criticism of the film is difficult for me. It is hard to detail just why I liked this film. Despite its flaws (a little too obvious in its associations, for one) Doubt struck me as a fairly honest piece. The idea of spirituality being something so personalized that even a child molester might be a strong, decent person is, I believe, a more challenging idea than many reviewers are ready for (I am not discluding myself here). The fact that the film looks like a play, plays a little long, and might revel in its cliff hanger ending doesn’t discount the excellent writing and the thought-provoking nature of its conversation.