Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as Father Brendan Flynn, a young priest at the St. Nicholas church and school in the Bronx in 1964. He is at loggerheads with the principal, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) a fiery and iron-fisted dragon not dissimilar in character to the strong-willed Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. However, here she is sans Haute couture outfits and is instead in the more obvious and modest black attire typical for people of the cloth.
The story is a film adaptation of John Patrick Stanley’s award-winning play. From early on in the film, seeds of doubt are sewn regarding Fr. Flynn’s nature. Sr. Beauvier is convinced that the friendly advances that he is making towards the school’s first black student are in fact those of someone grooming and abusing the boy. As if prophesising from the pulpit, Fr. Flynn declares in his opening sermon that: “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty”.
Streep meanwhile, attempts to convince all and sundry that she is the picture of piety and sanctimoniously takes the moral high ground. She disregards the absence of any concrete proof and instead trusts her women’s intuition or what she terms “moral certainty”.
The drama unfolds as new information comes to light and accusations by Streep are counteracted with protestations from Seymour Hoffman. Even Sr. Beauvier has a moment of lucidity when she realises she is not completely innocent and admits the: “Habit catches us up more often than most”.
The viewer is subsequently led on a journey where their perceptions and values are equally pushed on the one hand to believe the priest is actually a predator, or to disbelieve and see him as a mere scape goat punished for bucking the strict, authoritative system.
In essence, Doubt is a tension-filled drama propelled by two religious characters that are human and thus, similarly flawed that leave you hoping they receive absolution for their sins. Overall, Doubt is the equivalent of watching an artist paint a picture but you are unaware of what their intensions are, so for the duration of the exercise you are left wondering whether the circle on the canvas will become part of a portrait, landscape or abstract design.