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Meryl Streep
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Amy Adams
Viola Davis.
John Patrick Shanley.
John Patrick Shanley.
Running Time
104 minutes

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A battle of titanic wills ensues at a Catholic school in 1963 New York, when the indomitably moralistic Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Streep) suspects that likable new priest Father Flynn (Hoffman) has made indecent advances to an altar boy...

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Whatever your verdict on this talky triple-hander, there’s no doubting the best entrance since Darth Vader wheezed onto a dazed Blockade Runner. As the soon-to-be-suspect Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) gives another convivial sermon, we tiptoe after the faceless shroud of Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep), patrolling the edge of the pews like a spectre, smacking gigglers and waking snoozers with a whisper as swift and sharp as a flick-knife. We catch a glimpse of red-rimmed eyes and sallow, Exorcisty skin looming out of the shadows — she looks as if she might have recently risen from the dead.

After bouncing up and down on a Greek mattress, fans of Streep’s dignity will be thrilled to find her contained in this seething hiss of a nun. Like The Joker she’s a Gothic showpiece, part Miss Marple, part Wicked Witch. Streep, though, slips something human between the gusts of piercing anger: wry grace notes written into her pursed lips and arching brow.
Faithfully adapted from John Patrick Shanley’s own Pulitzer-winning stageplay, this was destined to be a film about performances, but it is shakily close to being a film about a performance. Streep is like the earthquake in a disaster movie; everyone else is just negotiating her aftermath.

As the title suggests, we are beset by questions but few answers. Has this man, so apparently decent, really taken advantage of an altar boy, the only black pupil in the Catholic school Sister Aloysius presides over like Stalin? The evidence is paper-thin, but her certainty comes ironclad. Behind all this loquacious evil-mongering, the real subject seems to be faith itself — if you can believe in an elusive deity, is it so hard to be convinced of a crime without firm evidence?

Shanley’s play is not a natural fit for the big screen. It’s a flurry of violent head-to-heads designed for the unshifting planks of theatre: you are told much, but shown very little. So intent is the writing on keeping us in doubt — the question of Flynn’s guilt is tantalisingly open — there come inevitable frustrations. Amid the whirlpool of accusation and counter-accusation, ambiguity and suggestion, you’ll lose faith we’re getting anywhere at all.

As director, Shanley, who hasn’t dabbled since the tepid rom-com Joe Versus The Volcano, shows little guile. He creates an appropriate period setting cloaked in autumnal browns or the grubby whites of New York snow, but where Ron Howard found a smooth dynamism to accelerate Frost/Nixon out of its stage origins, Shanley tries feverish excess. His movie clatters with nutso Dutch angles and great burps of Biblical symbolism like a Roger Corman quickie: storms rattle at windowpanes, bulbs fizzle, even food becomes a fleshy portent of something or other.

Streep is thunderstorm enough. In her performance you have every reason to see the film. She is the most interesting question — what is the wellspring of that bile? Some long-festering wound from a past life? The slackening of old-school values? The boys’ club of the Catholic order? Or is it God who has let her down? The final scene is slippery — more ambiguities still — but it’ll send you out chattering: what do those tears signify?

A mighty actor, a smart play, a clunky adaptation.

Reviewed by Ian Nathan

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Doubt
Empire Star Rating

Lacks a lasting impact, but very gripping throughout with electric performances from Hoffman, Streep and Adams. Certainly not clunky. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Whistler at 16:33, 29 January 2013 | Report This Post

American Heavyweights show the world how acting is done

Meryl Streep squaring off with Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a battle of the wits This is not boring, it is raw, intense in the moment stuff I remember thinking 'I doubt Phil Hoffmans character is guilty' and doubt is an interesting word in discussing this picture. Not for conservative movie goers, but they get five movies every week With love from New Zealand ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by monkeyhumour at 00:55, 15 May 2010 | Report This Post

Exceptional drama

This will surely be one of the most underrated and overlooked films of the year. Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman both turn in beautiful performances, while Shanley's writing and directing are some of the best work I have ever seen. The central theme of doubt in the film creates a uniquely thought-provoking experience, which is expertly communicated to the audience by Shanley's seemingly unexperienced slight of hand. Doubt will remind you of what films are supposed to be like - and not u... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by djphilips at 16:06, 07 April 2010 | Report This Post

Great movie, brilliant acting.

Streep is so terrifying, I really found myself hating her! Hoffman is also superb. Wholly compelling stuff, the end kind of throws a double turns, first the truth about the phone call and then Streep's "confession" if you will. Very engaging. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tysmuse at 15:46, 20 March 2010 | Report This Post

A drama of the highest order and the ensemble cast are utterly amazing, stunningly lead by Hoffman and streep ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Blue Ryan at 21:58, 28 December 2009 | Report This Post

RE: Doubt

This movie was a lot more religious then what I was expecting, not to mention LONG. I suppose it was a good movie, though I found the camera angles a bit annoying. Some scenes were longer than it should have been and the acting had its moments where it was just corny. I wouldn't necessarily re-watch this movie but I guess if I had to, I would. Either way, it's not worth it. ... More

Posted by Ezzieblue at 01:13, 16 October 2009 | Report This Post

RE: so-so movie....great performances, Streep was great but VIOLA

Interesting to note that you believe something "didn't click" An absolutly superb movie. For me, what didn't click is that it was set in the wrong country. It needed to be set in a country that is predominately Catholic and the where church had its invisible cloak of control over its people. ... More

Posted by Seamus. Pat. at 10:57, 13 October 2009 | Report This Post

Everyone is missing the point. Guilty or not guilty cannot be answered. That is the whole point.

Great story and fanastic acting. Scene with Hoffman and Streep in the office was as tense and gripping as any I have ever watched. Some viewers are missing the point. Is he guilty or not? This is not the question that needs answered in the movie. It is left for the viewer to decide. Streep's character who was adamant that priest was guilty throughout the movie, had the last words "I have doubts" ... i.e. about her faith, her past, her life and ultimately about the guilt of Fr. Flynn.... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Seamus. Pat. at 10:12, 13 October 2009 | Report This Post

Hello, Empire - Meryl wasn't on her own...

Yes Ian - all very relevant I'm sure - but did you notice there were other people in the film? Amy Adams? The amazing Philip Seymour Hoffman? The understated Viola Davis? Isn't the job of a reviewer to review the main performances as well as the overall adaptation of a movie? I thought it was brilliantly-acted (which is what I, as a layman watching a Streep/Hoffman movie expect) & the scene in Streep's office between her & Hoffman should be used in every drama school as a shining example... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by eddieryan at 19:33, 20 September 2009 | Report This Post

A great actors film. Brilliant performances from everyone especially Mery Streep and, an all too brief, Viola Davis. One of the best acted films i've seen this year. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by PaulJohn at 19:57, 28 June 2009 | Report This Post

Good But Left With Unanswered Questions.

I wanted to see this when it came out so I waited and rented it out to watch last night. It begins with Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Flynn talking about doubt which raise alarms to Meryl Streep thinking that he's taking advantage to a young black boy and wants him out of the school/church. Only Amy Adams can really know if he's inconcent or not, does she believe him or Streep? It's a tense film, filled with gripping moments and some outstanding acting from the three main leads. Problem is th... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joanna likes films at 09:50, 07 June 2009 | Report This Post

Very well acted all round from a cast of heavy weights, dramatic and brilliantly written piece of filmmaking. Where it falls flat is the slight inability to lift itself from the stage to film. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by willchadwick at 13:33, 04 May 2009 | Report This Post


It opens very strongly, concentrating on the kids, and their routine, before introducing us to the iron-fisted Sister Beauvier and the far more congenial Fr Flynn. He's popular and the kids love him, whilst she is feared and hated by the students in equal measure. Is she just grated by his new age approach to preaching the word of God, or does she genuinely think that he may be guilty of what he has been accused? Heavy, ponderous questions that are asked beautifully by the three excellent leads.... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by moviemaniac2 at 17:27, 07 March 2009 | Report This Post

This, Milk and Frost/Nixon were the best acted movies of the year

A poignantly discerning, if slightly restrained, look at the caustic parallels of belief and faith, told through a wonderfully simple premise and bravura performances mystically tinged with darkness. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Romarth at 21:37, 03 March 2009 | Report This Post

RE: bit harsh really

An intelligent, dialogue driven story, but fairly clumsy in its execution, particular the overuse of 'symbolic' weather. As you'd expect, this is an actor's showpiece, but personally I found Adams too irritating and Streep too mannered and scenery-chewing to be truly credible. Luckily, we have the brilliant Hoffman to save the day, whose superby ambiguous performance keeps the interest and the moral boundaries shifting. Unfortunately, this ambiguity is undermined by a crucial scene late on... More

Posted by MOTH at 09:42, 02 March 2009 | Report This Post

bit harsh really

This film worked i believe due to ALL of the cast Phillip Seymour Hoffman especially... The movie makes us question the very notion of even the nicest of the charcters as well as questioning our own views and ideals in relation to the church. There is alot of people who believe this happens everyday (And it could) so with that and other factors in our mind we can reason with all sides of the debate and while no clear answer is presented it definetely is compelling stuff. I can recommend this to ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by johnpond1989 at 00:17, 27 February 2009 | Report This Post

Disheartening that Amy Adams did not win Best Supporting

With the Oscars announced, and so many epic performances slipping away unrecognised, I can't help but think the biggest loss for this picture is in fact Amy Adams. Playing the moral compass of Streep's so-called 'certainty' of the situation; she really does shine. Modest performances like these seen in 'Doubt' are outshone by the bohemian trend of independant projects and 'underdogs' such as 'Slumdog Millionaire'. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by melp180 at 19:11, 23 February 2009 | Report This Post

4 stars, no doubt!

An excellent film. The fact that (SPOILER...) Flynn is never proved either innocent or guilty adds to the appeal of the film, it shows how such accusations play out in real life. Although it is flagged up adequately that Flynn has been - erm - dipping the holy wick where it shouldnt be dipped, who are the general public to know when Flynn is 'moved upstairs' out of harms way. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by filmsunlimited at 16:29, 20 February 2009 | Report This Post

RE: so-so movie....great performances, Streep was great but VIOLA

L: kargon Has Hoffman won an Oscar?  I haven't seen this but what I've seen him in he deserves one. sp; Yes he won Best Actor for Capote 3 or 4 years ago.   Good but not great and I have no doubt (pun not intended) that this works far better on stage.  The main problem I had with the film was some of the direction - scenes shot at frankly bizarre diagonal angles, the inappropriate horror motives, the underplaying of some scenes at the expense of other vastly ove... More

Posted by Groovy Mule at 14:06, 20 February 2009 | Report This Post

Without a doubt a great film

Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep, AMy Adams and Viola Davis all great performances which carry an interesting mystery tale which keep you thinking long after the credits roll. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by THE DALTONATOR at 21:23, 19 February 2009 | Report This Post

RE: so-so movie....great performances, Streep was great but VIOLA

Has Hoffman won an Oscar?  I haven't seen this but what I've seen him in he deserves one. ... More

Posted by kargon at 19:02, 19 February 2009 | Report This Post

RE: so-so movie....great performances, Streep was great but VIOLA

i saw this last friday and really enjoyed it. its nice to see hoffman back in the sort of roles he did prior to capote, as outside of before the devil knows your dead i think hes played it very safe. meryl streep was a powerhouse throughout, and amy adams proved great support. the film was shot by roger deakins, the guy behind the assassination of jesse james by the coward robert ford and no country for old men, and i thought he managed to make a very theatrically grounded film look incredibly ... More

Posted by adambatman82 at 12:36, 19 February 2009 | Report This Post

RE: so-so movie....great performances, Streep was great but VIOLA

It's vastly mediocre, but streep gives a very, very good performance. ... More

Posted by Drone at 10:01, 19 February 2009 | Report This Post

RE: so-so movie....great performances, Streep was great but VIOLA

Watched this a couple of nights ago. I really enjoyed it. Great performances from Streep and Hoffman. ... More

Posted by Bickle at 22:17, 17 February 2009 | Report This Post

so-so movie....great performances, Streep was great but VIOLA

It's a very clever and smart movie. Much better than I expcted. But there were something that just didn't click or work. But what definately worked: the performances. The four oscar nominated performances are so worthy. WHile I agree empire that Streep was the show I have to say that all of the other three performances were just as rivoting. And the biggest impression for me was actually VIOLA DAVIS! WHAT A SCENE! WHAT A CHARACTER! and in only 10 minutes... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by mosephland at 18:08, 15 February 2009 | Report This Post

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