Monday, December 29, 2008


My two must-see movies this holiday season are "Gran Torino" and "Doubt." The latter appeals to my inner theatergoer: this amazing clip over at the trailers site convinces me that the movie-- which is based on a Pulitzer-winning stage play-- will be great fun for those who like acting for acting's sake. You may have heard about the story, which centers on the conflict between a young liberal priest and an old battleaxe of a nun: the nun suspects the priest of pedophilia, but does so with nearly zero evidence.

I've read a few reviews of the film (which is currently in wide release), and I get the feeling that a few of the reviewers, who have variously described Meryl Streep's performance as "bordering on caricature," don't know much about the variety of personalities that inhabit the Catholic infrastructure. I used to teach at a Catholic high school, and my own undergrad and graduate formation occurred in Catholic environments, and I can vouch that, as is true anywhere, the Church attracts all kinds, Streep's character's type among them. Streep's not giving us a caricature; I've known some Sister Aloysiuses in my time.

If anything, I suspect some of those critics, being of a certain political persuasion, don't want to face the realities of religious zeal: to acknowledge the possibility that people as unlikeable as Streep's character exist would be to recognize that fanatical elements in the world today are deserving of condemnation. Easier, then, to dismiss Streep's portrayal as caricature ("Come on-- no one really acts like that!") than to view it as plausible.

"Doubt" looks to be timely on several levels, but I'm less interested in the movie's political and religious implications than in the acting, which the above-linked sample scene promises to be compelling (watch the priest's hands! he's so furious he doesn't know what to do with himself). I'm a fan of both Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman,* and between the two of them, much scenery will be chewed.

*I don't know whether I'm a fan of Hoffman the person. He gave one of the most boring interviews ever while a guest on "The Actor's Studio" with James Lipton. The show is meant as both broadcast and master class for the students in the audience, and I found Hoffman's behavior almost embarrassing. If you catch the episode, you'll see what I mean-- the slouched posture, the half-asleep delivery, the almost complete lack of excitement or passion, as if he didn't want to be there. Maybe it's the Korean in me, but I'd expect him to tackle "The Actor's Studio" with a bit more focus and energy, for the students' sake if not the TV public's.


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