The sublime Viola Davis turns 52 today. Over the last few years, she has really caught my eye with her grace, humanity and power on screen. She’s truly an outstanding actress of depth and range. Every time I see her, I just know she will be on point and deliver a beautiful performance. So my best birthday wishes to the fabulous Viola Davis. Long may you continue to impress us with your work.
John Patrick Shanley
- Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius Beauvier
- Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Flynn
- Amy Adams as Sister James
- Viola Davis as Mrs. Miller
John Patrick Shanley directs this adaptation of his own play which powerfully and ambiguously questions the nature of truth, certainty and religion. Doubt really dives into the conundrum and mystery of suspicion, bolstered by one exceptional cast doing fine work with deep material.
In 1964 , austere school principal and nun Sister Aloysius Beauvier runs a Catholic school in The Bronx, where she watches each and every move to keep others in line. She is a woman who strikes fear into the hearts of everyone and believes in discipline where her students are involved. Her ideas are of an old-fashioned mindset, which puts her at odds with popular priest Father Flynn. He is a seemingly kindly man who the children like and whose ideas are progressive in bringing the Church forward. Sister Aloysius has a deep dislike of him and after hearing a sermon that he delivers on the feelings of doubt, she asks young and naive Sister James to keep an eye on him. Shortly after this, Sister James reluctantly reveals that Donald Miller, the school’s first black student, returned from seeing Father Flynn in the rectory, crying and with the smell of alcohol on his breath. This convinces Sister Aloysius that there is something sinister about Father Flynn and she is certain that he has sexually abused the boy. Father Flynn denies any wrongdoing and tells her to leave it alone. But Sister Aloysius is not backing down and takes it upon herself, despite a lack of proof, to bring down Father for what she believes he has done. So begins a battle of wills between the relentless Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn , where the truth is the thing that lies at the complex centre of events but is hidden and speculated with unexpected results.
John Patrick Shanley successfully transports his play from the stage to screen with a subtle building in uneasiness and moral questioning. There is a high level of tense atmosphere at work in Doubt, generated through the way that the dialogue takes on multiple meanings and the tight surroundings that enclose the characters. canted angles and close-ups further enhance the engulfing intensity of the piece. The dark tones of the cinematography, supplied by the great , cement us in the dark and complex time and setting, rarely venturing further than the school for a feeling of deep claustrophobia. The limited setting hints at the movies origins as a play, yet help keep that very aura of intimate drama. Some of Doubt gets stagey from time to time, yet this niggle is quickly rectified by the provocative drama and time for rumination that it ultimately achieves. The amount of tension that fills the frames if the movie took me by surprise in a good way. I really was finding myself questioning who was right and wrong, plus whether personal vendettas and emotions were clouding the judgement of characters. There are those who watch Doubt and find its ambiguity distracting, but for most of us, this added level of intrigue gets you to really deliberate what you make of the combustible situation playing out. What people need to consider is that Doubt is as much a mystery about guilt, possible abuse of power and morality, as it is a drama. A quiet yet well suited score knows exactly when to appear and when to let scenes play out devoid of interference.
Meryl Streep heads the cast with another sterling performance. Burying herself in the self-righteous and stern head nun who is the chief accuser, Streep exudes a no-nonsense attitude( spoken in a harsh and convincing Bronx accent), tempered by a dry wit and occasional time for revelation. Yet the biggest accomplishment of her acting is in the balance of Sister Aloysius, in various subtle and expressive ways that hint at her being something different underneath her austere appearance . She is a fearsome person to say the least who may just be doing this to get rid of Father Flynn , but on the other hand, she seems to want to protect her student from what she believes is inappropriate and disturbing contact. There is a real complexity to this woman that Meryl Streep understands; Aloysius may believe that certainty is on her side, but she may in fact be feeling the strains of time pushing her further away from authority and clear judgement. Playing off her and facing off against her in very intense scenes is the excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman. He manages to make Father Flynn both amiable and somewhat questionable, lending a big dose of ambiguity to everything. With force and skill, Hoffman represents the accused as a man trying to bring the church up to date, and sparring with the pointed finger of Sister Aloysius for something he may or not have done. His scenes with Streep are filled with power and rising suspicion, culminating in an arresting coin which both stars really let loose. Amy Adams beautifully and with considerable nuance plays the sympathetic and good-hearted novice Sister James, who is essentially the audiences guide to being caught between two ends of the spectrum. A sweetness is present in the work that never becomes cloying because of how well Adams imbues the part with a questioning and conflicted heart. Stuck in the middle of both Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius, Sister James is forced to contend with both sets of possibilities, a challenge that Amy Adams more than rises to with a sensitive piece of acting. Rounding out the cast is the brief but superbly played performance from the wonderful Viola Davis. She stars as the mother of the boy who may have been abused and her screen time is mainly confined to one specific scene. But what a powerful and indelible scene it is! Filled with a sadness, conviction and acting in a way that may seem different from what you’d expect from a mother being informed of potentially horrifying treatment of her son, Viola Davis dramatically provides the catalyst of the story, that enables us to see things in a very different way. This is a performance that proves that you don’t need hours on screen to be memorable. The four main actors were all Oscar nominated for their work, and it isn’t any surprise why because of how convincingly they bring to life this thorny drama.
A thought-provoking and building triumph of unbearable tension and questions, Doubt succeeds at getting the audience to really consider the validity of supposedly benevolent actions and just how damaging things can become when there is lack of proof but plenty of speculation. It’s a testament to the acting and directing that Doubt never feels too stagey, instead mounted with a mystery and probing yet subtle approach. What we get is a powerful and intense film that leaves you really contemplating events long after the curtain has been drawn.
- Emma Stone as Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan
- Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark
- Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson
- Bryce Dallas Howard as Hilly Holbrook
- Jessica Chastain as Celia Foote
- Allison Janney as Charlotte Phelan
- Sissy Spacek as Mrs. Walters
A big-hearted and stirring movie that tackles racism and the efforts of someone to expose it, The Help provides a poignant and affecting film, aided by a superb cast of talented actresses.
Aibileen Clark is a black maid for a family in 1963 Jackson, Mississippi, who has endured great hardships but has largely kept her emotions under wraps as being maid is the only thing she knows and the only form of work she has. She finds company in her friend and fellow maid Minny Jackson, who is sassy and outspoken in comparison to her, but an excellent cook which is why she finds her employment. A friend of the family Aibileen works for, the young and fresh out of university Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan returns home to pursue a career in writing. Yet in the social circle that Skeeter finds herself in, headed by the utterly vile and extremely racist Hilly Holbrook, she is something of an odd person, mainly due to the fact that she is more interested in writing than finding a boy to marry. After witnessing the prejudice that the black maids suffer on a daily basis from the white families that employ them, Skeeter finds a story to be discovered and written about. She wishes to write something that shows the feelings and opinions of ‘the help’ and expose what they go through. Determined as ever, she first asks Aibileen her thoughts on being a maid, of which Aibileen is apprehensive as she doesn’t want to lose her job for speaking out of turn. Good-natured Skeeter eventually wins Aibileen around with her persuasive tactics as she genuinely cares about what happens and wishes to make some sort of difference to the shocking treatment of black people. But in the climate of racism and prejudice, they must be careful that no one catches on to their plans, especially Hilly. They also recruit Minny, who has a few stories to tell in typically impudent fashion. Their writing and conversations soon lay the ground work for the book, as they skilfully avoid being caught by meeting in secret and quietly getting the opinions of other maids, who were first skeptical about speaking out. As the writing continues, Skeeter’s resolve strengthens until she won’t stop and with growing confidence and support from both Aibileen and Minny, the book is put in successful motion.
Tate Taylor’s direction is well-appointed and rendered with just the right amount of poignancy, that allows the characters to shine brightly and come alive. He does get a bit sidetracked with trying to sometimes be too light, but his direction is handsomely done all the same. There a few times when The Help misses an opportunity to really present the themes it has with more honesty and they get a bit lost in the whole thing, but by and large, it does a pretty commendable job with at least bringing most of it to the attention of viewers. I would have liked a bit more seriousness at various parts in the film, but the largely touching and inspiring story at least made up for that mishap. The Help certainly makes for moving and poignant viewing, as we really feel get to know the characters of Aibileen and Minny and are horrified at the treatment they endure by others, simply because of their skin colour. It is pretty staggering that it wasn’t actually that long ago that things like this happened when you think about it, and even today there is still prejudice in places. Some will say that the film is too glossy to have dramatic impact when it does have significantly moving material that sheds a light on determination to overcome racism. If anything, the bright colours throughout The Help, enable it to be a bit ironic as everything on the surface is nice, but the ugly truth of matters is far from it. The music in The Help is quite a contemplative part of it, with a growing emotion and feeling slowly emerging from the quiet.
Emma Stone is extremely appealing as the heroine and thrust of the narrative. Her Skeeter is a girl of understanding and doggedness, who gradually with gumption takes risks in ensuring that the story is told and recognized as a portrait of the hardships the maids have to deal with. Her bright eyes and quick mouth are also put to good use, with Stone getting some feisty one-liners to dispense to the circle of women she knows and all follow Hilly like loyal sheep. If Stone represents the spirit of the piece, Viola Davis is the beating heart of The Help. Her dignity, integrity and emotions are all projected with such beauty, poise and humanity that you can’t help but be moved and sympathise with. Her face registers so many feelings that dialogue isn’t needed to understand the hardships she has endured and how she has stoically battled away with grace and hope. Davis is a soulful and powerful performer and her work here is nothing short of amazing from start to finish. On scene-stealing form is an Oscar-winning Octavia Spencer, who is delightfully sassy and direct to the point. Her Minny is a character to root for and Spencer’s wit and depth is given fine voice and freedom as Spencer completely owns a lot of the show with her work. Bryce Dallas Howard savours the role of queen bitch Hilly and plays it to the hilt, becoming one nasty piece of work that you just want her to get exactly what she deserves. She reminds one of a cross between a Stepford Wife and a queen bee from high school, all packaged into a horribly vindictive package and realised well by the talented Howard. Jessica Chastain showcases her immense versatility by playing the ditzy but very personable Celia; an ostracized lady who hires Minny and treats her like any normal person would, in a respectful and kind way that isn’t based on prejudice or fear. Chastain imbues the role with a real naive sweetness, along with a complimentary wealth of sadness that makes you want to hug her. Celia is bullied by the disgusting Hilly who sees her as trashy and immature, when in reality she is a lot more likable, open-minded and mature in outlook than anyone thinks. Good support is provided by Allison Janney as Skeeter’s bossy but ill mother and especially Sissy Spacek as the dotty but amusing mother of Hilly.
So while it could have dug deeper into the issues it presents, The Help still ends up being a pleasing and moving drama about taking a chance and growing with courage in letting your voice be heard.
Nights in Rodanthe
George C. Wolfe
- Diane Lane as Adrienne Willis
- Richard Gere as Dr Paul Flanner
- James Franco as Mark Flanner
- Christopher Meloni as Jack Willis
- Scott Glenn as Robert Torrelson
- Viola Davis as Jean
A predictable and schmaltzy romantic drama, Nights in Rodanthe is made at least watchable and bearable by the presence of Diane Lane and Richard Gere, who bring a much-needed heart to an utterly contrived and unoriginal movie.
Adrienne Willis is a mother of two trying to keep it together after her husband Jack left for another woman. The trouble is now he wants her back and Adrienne is caught in a conundrum of whether to forgive him for his affair or continue as she is. Her strained relationship with her teenage daughter, who always takes her father’s side does little to help matters. So while her kids are staying with their father for the weekend, she decides to go to her best friend Jean’s inn in Rodanthe, North Carolina to tend to the rustic place on the beach. She hopes that while there she can come to a decision about her future while clearing her head. Also staying at the inn for the weekend is Dr Paul Flanner; who has his own troubles regarding a patient who died on the operating table, the family of the deceased patient suing him and his fractured relationship with his son, who is also a doctor. At the beginning of the weekend, the terse Paul is withdrawn and not at all talkative towards the conflicted Adrienne. But as Adrienne begins to coax him to talk, he also helps her reveal her pain. With a hurricane forecast and it best to stay inside, it is here where the two emotionally conflicted people really get to know each other. Over the course of the stormy weekend, Adrienne and Paul begin to open up to each other and help at least make some repair to their wounds and conflicts. Soon enough, a genuine romance sparks between them. But can their burgeoning romance blossom when they still have difficult decisions to make?
Firstly before I begin discussing my thoughts on Nights in Rodanthe, I’ll admit that I knew that it would probably be contrived and predictable. I mean it’s based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks, who always churns out romances that all bear striking resemblances to the last. But I at least expected there to be something else brought to the table with this movie. Sadly, it settled for the inevitable story line and cloying sentimentality that it seemed destined for. Unconfident direction from George C. Wolfe does nothing to distinguish this movie from the endless glut of schmaltzy romances that populate cinemas on a regular basis. He seems more interested in basking in the glowing sunlight and changes of weather that occur over the weekend, rather than the romance that develops between Paul and Adrienne. And while everything looks nice in Nights in Rodanthe, the scenery of the beach and crashing waves is pleasant enough, once again the ghost of every other cliché in the unoriginal romantic movie book is ever-present. Cue kisses in the wind, walks along the beach and cuddling by the fire. Clunky dialogue is another problem that makes some of it just feel ridiculous, especially the parts involving Adrienne and her daughter that come off as boring and melodramatic. The music score is lush but uninspired and occasionally lurches all over the show, and doesn’t manage to compliment some nice visuals. Saying all of this, Nights in Rodanthe does have some emotional impact, particularly as it nears the end and it’s inevitable that you’ll be reaching for the tissues.
Thank goodness we at least have Diane Lane and Richard Gere to enliven events and give Nights in Rodanthe at least a shred of believability and lovely chemistry. Diane Lane has always been an actress of depth and authenticity and that shines through here. Showcasing Adrienne’s worries that give way to a more relaxed persons, Lane just feels so radiant and lovely that it’s hard to take your eyes off her. She makes even the most clunky dialogue ring true and that is saying something with the material she’s given here. Richard Gere also does his best as the tortured Paul, haunted by emotions and pain. As previously mentioned, the two of them have a great rapport with each other and work very well together. Having worked together before in Unfaithful, you can just sense that they share something special when working with each other. Sadly, everyone else in this movie suffers from either being seen to little or just having roles that aren’t that interesting. Which is a shame when you have people like James Franco, Christopher Meloni, Scott Glenn and Viola Davis.
So despite the presence of Lane and Gere, boasting natural chemistry, Nights in Rodanthe falls very flat and ends up just another run of the mill romantic drama that you’ve seen been done countless times before.