DOUBT —one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was not forcing me into a church of some kind, letting me make my own way among the competing beliefs and scams that enthrall (make that ensnare) billions from Karachi to Kansas City. Religion, organized or not, has never been high on my “1000 Things To Do Before Croaking” list. Likewise, movies about people wrestling with their faith tend to end up on the bottom of the Should Shelf. Yes, I liked the priests in Going My Way, and you don’t have guess that I’d follow The Trouble With Angels—cuz Hayley Mills was in it. But The Shoes of The Fisherman, Monsignor, et.al?—I just don’t have the life minutes to throw away on attention better spent with Godzilla, at the O.K. Corral or scaling Pork Chop Hill.
So I resisted this movie, about a nun and priest waging a private fight over questionable behavior in their 1964 Catholic school, even though it featured some great actors. Whack my knuckles with a ruler, then, and teach me to keep an open mind, as this is absolutely riveting drama, with impeccable acting, great dialog (courtesy of screenwriter John Patrick Shanley (adapting his Pulitzer-winning play), and lovely cinematography. Shanley directed as well, and he didn’t seem to have much trouble coaxing Oscar nominated work from Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis (Meryl for lead, the others in supporting categories), earning as well a nomination for his writing. Roger Deakins was the cameraman responsible for the look of the 2008 production, which runs a trim 104 minutes.
What is it with Streep—was this her 200th nomination—can she do anything less than perfectly? Hoffman likewise is flawless in a role that takes no easy way out. Adams continues her ascent and Davis, with just two scenes, is smashing. This isn’t a film designed to drive a sinner like me back into some fold or other (did the word ‘falderol’ come from ‘fold’?)—indeed, it reinforces my lifelong aversion to uniform wearing, sex-avoiding (well…),moralizing tax evaders—but it does make me humble myself before Whoever it is That Runs Things and ask forgiveness for being prejudicial about my movie-watching. Say three Hail Mary’s.