Making a film about Catholic priests molesting or acting inappropriately toward young boys presents more risk than any other possible topic. Not only is it topical, which runs the risk of the filmmakers seeming to take advantage of headlines purely for commercial gain, but anything involving kids is sensitive ground, and throwing religious controversy into the mix is a virtual Molotov cocktail of potential protests. So imagine the cajones it took for Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep to tackle those subjects in Doubt, a movie in which Hoffman plays a priest accused by Streep’s none-too-kind nun of acting inappropriately to a boy in the parish’s elementary school.
To both actors’ credit, Doubt represents some of the most outstanding work on both actors’ parts, and the plot never delves into the controversy of the subject itself, but of the controversial dynamics of an overbearing nun struggling with a relatively new priest whose philosophy about the Catholic Church differs starkly from hers. In fact, the subject of priests molesting children ends up being more of a subtext to the interpersonal controversy and “big picture” questions about faith than it does the centerpiece of the film. For that matter, when the movie ends with no resolution to the molestation charges, many moviegoers will feel cheated — until they realize the relationship dynamics were the point of the story, not the accusations.
With Doubt now available on Blu-ray Disc, it’s easier than ever to give the film a second watch, and perhaps even a third, to see the relationship pan out. Watching Hoffman and Streep go at it as passionately as a nun and priest can is nothing short of mesmerizing, and coming from a reviewer who went to Catholic schools for 12 years, I can say without question that it makes me wonder what really went on in in-school politics before and after the bell rang.
Listening to Hoffman and Streep trade verbal barbs is made all the better by the Blu-ray Disc’s outstanding DTS-HD Master Audio. True, the dialogue in Doubt comes from the center channel, but the hallway echoes and environmental ambience really sets the stage, and the film’s few choral scenes sound absolutely superb. There are also a few instances where the weather comes into play (based on important plot points), and in those scenes the breeze swirls around the listener and makes full use of the surround channels.
The 1.85:1-framed 1080p video is solid, too, although with the exception of a very few scenes, it never really gets to show its stuff. This is primarily for two reasons. First, the sets are largely comprised of muted tones that don’t really let an HDTV show off its contrast and range of color. Second, most of the scenes take place inside monochromatic buildings, and the few instances where there are outdoor scenes show a slight grain as if the zoom was pushed too hard.
The bonus features with Doubt on Blu-ray start off with From Stage to Screen (19:06), a series of interviews with the cast and crew about what it took to bring the successful play to the silver screen. The discussions also hit on the real-life stories behind the play’s (and movie’s) plot, and how the story evolved with the media to become what we now see on Blu-ray Disc.
Next up is The Cast of Doubt (13:50), comprised The Energy RC-Micro home theater system delivered the sound for this review.of the requisite interview sessions with the primary cast: Hoffman, Streep, Amy Adams and Viola Davis. Interestingly enough, the interviews aren’t just produced by the filmmakers, but are ripped from a series that aired on EW.com of all places. I’m surprised that a film of this nature — and one that was nominated for as many high-profile awards as it was — didn’t receive a bit more attention in the cast interview category.
In Scoring Doubt (4:37), we get a quick look at Howard Shore’s work on the film and what inspired him to create the music for this powerful film. Most people will remember Shore from his incredible work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, but hearing his delicate nature in this film and learning what compelled him to create these pieces is really quite remarkable in spite of the feature’s brevity.
Sisters of Charity (6:28) is a unique bonus feature if for no other reason than it actually explores the lives of nuns living in a convent. Seriously, how many Blu-ray releases can you say you’ve watched that had nuns in their bonus features? You can probably count them on one hand. In this feature, though, the purpose isn’t exploitation of the novelty, but giving viewers an inside look at the lives of the nuns whom director John Patrick Shanley interviewed prior to beginning the film. Meryl Streep, appropriately enough, also provides some commentary on this documentary.
Rounding things out on the bonus feature list is an Audio Commenary spanning the entire length of the film. It would’ve been great to hear Streep commenting on the track about the work that went into preparing for her unsavory role, but instead we just have Shanley discussing the traditional things directors do in tracks of this nature. The track is just about what you’d expect, nothing more, nothing less, and a slight disappointment to those who were hoping to hear a bit more from the cast.
The bonus features, though, are not the reason to watch Doubt on Blu-ray; the masterful acting and intelligent plot are. And those elements are excellent regardless of the format, because those are the things that make any film succeed or fail. The audio and video are never really given a chance to do all they can, but in those few instances when Doubt lets the Blu-ray format “do its thing,” the film hardly fails to deliver. Hoffman and Streep sounds on paper like a fantastic duo, and watching their dynamics play out on screen manages to live up to all expectations. If you’ve not yet seen Doubt and are looking for a thought-provoking evening at home, Doubt is without doubt one film to add to your list.
- Score: 8
- An outstanding film in the plot and actor sense, but only a few scenes really do the Blu-ray format justice.
— Jonas Allen