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It's 1964, St. Nicholas in the Bronx. A vibrant, charismatic priest, Father Flynn, is trying to upend the school's strict customs, which have long been fiercely guarded by Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the iron-gloved Principal who believes in the power of fear and discipline. The winds of political change are sweeping through the country, and, indeed, the school has just accepted its first black student, Donald Miller. But when Sister James, a hopeful innocent, shares with Sister Aloysius her suspicion that Father Flynn is paying too much personal attention to Donald, Sister Aloysius is galvanized to begin a crusade to both unearth the truth and expunge Flynn from the school. Now, without a shred of proof or evidence except her moral certainty, Sister Aloysius locks into a battle of wills with Father Flynn, a battle that threatens to tear apart the Church and school with devastating consequences.
For more about Doubt and the Doubt Blu-ray release, see Doubt Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on April 9, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Alice Drummond, Audrie Neenan
Director: John Patrick Shanley
» See full cast & crew
Doubt Blu-ray Review
Unsettling, unnerving, and undeniably compelling...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, April 9, 2009
Ask any industry professional at what point a promising project begins to fulfill its potential or crumble into a direct-to-video fiasco and anyone worth their inflated paycheck will offer the same answer: casting. Since writer/director John Patrick Shanley's 2004 off-Broadway stageplay, Doubt, had already achieved domestic and international acclaim, it was clear that the success of his cinematic adaptation would hinge on whatever Hollywood heavyweights he tapped for each crucial role. Enter Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and lesser known scene-stealer Viola Davis; one of the most inspired, talented, and powerful casts of any Academy Award-nominated film last year.
Doubt tells the enigmatic tale of Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), a staunchly conservative nun who tends to govern the teachers and students of her Catholic school as if they were prisoners in an internment camp. Ever watchful and vigilant, she comes to suspect the church's priest, Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), of molesting one of the young boys (Joseph Foster) in her charge. Utilizing information she gained from a naive, well-intentioned fellow nun, Sister James (Amy Adams), Aloysius confronts Flynn and demands to know the truth. However, his easily substantiated explanation and outward demeanor suggests he did no such thing. Even Sister James believes him to be innocent and comes to his defense. What follows is a disquieting series of exchanges and encounters that find Aloysius increasing the ferocity of her accusations, approaching the boy's mother (Viola Davis) about her concerns, and pursuing Flynn in an attempt to force a confession she may never get.
Smolderingly intense and maddeningly difficult to traverse, Doubt doesn't provide any definitive answers, absolute certainty, or contrived conclusions. Instead, it hones in on how easily human beings succumb to their own deep-rooted beliefs and act on them, sometimes with little concern for the consequences of their behavior. Streep's Aloysius is an unsympathetic monster at first glance, but is soon revealed to be a shockingly compassionate paladin fighting to protect her flock from an increasingly evil world. Hoffman's Flynn is either a slick-haired salesman or a victim of a chance -- neither of which is ever entirely clear. I watched his every move and expression for some nugget of truth, but still find myself pondering his guilt or innocence. Adams' Sister James is the proverbial fledgling desperate to believe such an awful thing couldn't happen so close to home; a blank slate wavering between the icy regiment of her mentor and the modern sensibilities of a flawed shepherd. And even though Davis only appears for an extended third act scene, hers is the most challenging and disturbing presence in the film. Her performance could have shattered everything Streep, Adams, and Hoffman had accomplished, but she turns the entire story on its ear while injecting a distinct frailty and fragile humanity into the mix.
By the time the credits rolled, several minuscule clues led me to a seemingly satisfying answer as to who or what Father Flynn was. However, I remain as unsure of my answer as each character was of theirs. Therein lies the brilliance of Shanley's script and direction. The very premise of the film forced me to actively evaluate every nuance that graced the screen, while its lack of a traditional Hollywood conclusion has perpetuated that mystery in my mind long after the disc was ejected from my Blu-ray player. Shanley clearly isn't interested in dissecting the trivial minutiae of the story at hand -- he wants to discuss the very nature of faith, doubt, and uncertainty... not concentrate on which character is a hero and which is a villain. His cinematic adaptation is focused on the struggles mankind encounters on a daily basis and the conviction with which it surges and relents. To that end, Doubt is as involving an experience as it is a rousing multi-character study; its performances as authentic as they are stunning; its screenplay as perceptive as it is merciless.
Doubt Blu-ray, Video Quality
Doubt makes its deceptively humble Blu-ray debut with a suitably filmic 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer. While the most stringent videophiles among you may accuse the image of being a bit soft around the edges, Shanley's subdued palette has been perfectly preserved, black levels are rich and fully resolved, contrast is striking, and dimensionality is thoroughly convincing. Better still, the clean and stable picture isn't hindered by any significant artifacting, digital noise, distracting edge enhancement, or print instabilities. Sure, the film's finest textures aren't as crisp as they are on the latest-n-greatest, CG-laden demo discs, but foreground objects boast notable heft and refinement, background clarity is noteworthy, and faces, skin, and fabric have an attractive, natural appearance. The transfer even earns a degree of cinematic clout by forgoing the use of disruptive post-processing techniques, ungainly artificial sharpening, or unnecessary nonsense like noise reduction. The film's grain field is in tact, yet never grows intrusive or inconsistent.
Will Doubt turn casual consumers' heads if a savvy Best Buy employee tosses it into their store's Blu-ray kiosk? Probably not. Even so, film enthusiasts will be pleased with Disney's faithful presentation and technically proficient transfer.
Doubt Blu-ray, Audio Quality
As you might expect, Doubt is an exceedingly quiet film that treasures hushed voices, atmospheric ambience, and restrained musical cues above all else. As a result, Disney's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track delivers a thoroughly measured lossless experience; one which relies on convincing effects and realistic acoustics to produce its simmering soundfield. Dialogue is impeccable, each line intelligible, and every sound perfectly layered within the mix. Directionality is accurate as well, relying on smooth pans and meticulous sound design to offset its at-times underwhelming qualities. Use of the LFE channel is calculated and reserved, but anything more would be a distraction. Likewise, the rear speakers are only called upon to support brief bursts of activity -- otherwise, they're relegated to enhancing the immersive properties of each locale and little more. Granted, it often amounts to a front-heavy mix, but it works well with the source material and subject matter. While Disney's DTS-HD offering isn't the sort of track that will sell discs, purists will be taken with its presence and precision.
Doubt Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Doubt's supplemental package may strike some as being too short and low-key, but I found it to be quite complimentary to the scope of the film itself. Fans will find a surprisingly compelling commentary that digs into the development of the story more often than the day-to-day details of the production, as well as a collection of engrossing featurettes that offer far more information than their runtime might suggest. To top it all off, Disney has encoded all of the video content in high definition... effectively leaving me with little to complain about.
Doubt Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Doubt is a fascinating multi-character study that, despite its relatively slow pacing and intensely focused narrative, resonated with me a bit more than most of the other Best Picture contenders this year (specifically Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, and Milk). To my relief, this mesmerizing film has been awarded a fittingly strong Blu-ray release that features an excellent video transfer, a hauntingly subtle DTS-HD Master Audio track, and a tidy but satisfying set of supplements. I certainly won't guarantee everyone will enjoy the film as much as I did, but I can guarantee that yet another top-notch Disney release awaits anyone who does.
Doubt: Other Editions
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Doubt Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Today on Blu-ray - April 7th - April 7, 2009
When making a film about a controversial subject, it is often difficult to represent the subject matter in a way that will appeal to general audiences. Tread too lightly on the subject, and the message can be lost or misunderstood; tread too heavy, and the message ...
• Doubt Coming to Blu-ray - February 20, 2009
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring the Academy Award-nominated film 'Doubt' to Blu-ray on April 7th, day-and-date with the DVD release. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep, the film will be presented in 1.78:1 ...
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