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Doubt

Year: 2008
Production Co: Goodspeed Productions
Studio: Miramax
Director: John Patrick Shanley
Producer: Scott Rudin
Writer: John Patrick Shanley
Cast: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis
Part of what was so attractive about the recent Righteous Kill was the chance to see two masters of the craft (De Niro and Pacino) together for far more screen time than their last outing together (Michael Mann's 1995 drama thriller Heat).

Something went very wrong. Whether it was the plodding, seen-it-all-before plot, Jon Avnet's bizarre direction of De Niro and Pacino paycheque slumming like they seem to make a career out of nowadays, audiences stayed away in droves and we now live in a bizarre parallel universe where a movie starring two of the best actors of the last half century could bomb completely and come out in Australia direct to DVD.

Fortunately, another movie contains the titanic battle of staggering talent we hoped for from Righteous Kill. Philip Seymour Hoffman is the 21st century's Robert De Niro, effortlessly owning every film he's appeared in from heavy-thesping drama (Capote) to popcorn fluff (Mission Impossible 3). And Meryl Streep has been Oscar bait for the better part of 30 years.

With two living legends of acting on the set, it's no wonder writer/director John Patrick Shanley told Creative Screenwriting magazine co-star Amy Admas (no slouch herself in front of the camera) was 'terrified'.

It's 1964 in an old school Catholic school in the Bronx. The cranky, scary Sister Aloysius (Streep) wants things kept as they are, ruling terrified kids with an iron hand. The progressive Father Flynn (Hoffman) wants to engage with them and finally bring the school into the 20th century. But it's his friendship with a young, bullied black student that arouses suspicions.

Sister Aloysius has no such suspicions however, levelling the unspoken charge of child abuse straight at Flynn, with the uncertain junior Sister James (Adams looking on as both try to convince her to their cause).

You saw giant robots beating the crap out of each other in Transformers. Adapted from Shanley's play, this movie is about two (and sometimes three) people standing in a room, and it's a more effective battle of wills than giant robots, a police chief and a shark or a young Jedi and a Dark lord of the Sith ever managed on screen. The dialogue brimming with accusation and hostility waiting to break between Hoffman and Streep crackles with electricity, and it's no accident one of the metaphorical symbols is the light that keeps blowing out in Sister Aloysius' office. When a near-tears Flynn tells her 'I could fight you' and Aloysius says with a mixture of stubborn certainty and contempt 'You will lose', it'll raise hairs on the back of your neck if you're the type to be impressed by good acting.

Doubt is what the craft of dramatic performance was made for. Don't miss it.

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