Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2008. Goodspeed Productions, Scott Rudin Productions. Screenplay by John Patrick Shanley, based on his play. Cinematography by Roger Deakins. Produced by Mark Roybal, Scott Rudin. Music by Howard Shore. Production Design by David Gropman. Costume Design by Ann Roth. Film Editing by Dylan Tichenor. Academy Awards 2008. Golden Globe Awards 2008. Washington Film Critics Awards 2008.
Tradition clashes with modern thinking at a Catholic school run by nuns in 1960s New York City. Priest Philip Seymour Hoffman gives sermons that capture and stir the emotions of his parishioners with their tolerance for scepticism and fluidity in Catholic belief, raising a flag in the mind of the hard-edged, fundamental school principal Meryl Streep. When sweet, possibly naïve teacher Amy Adams sees something odd between Hoffman and the one black student at the newly integrated school, she reports it to Streep and gives the headmistress the first means of attack with which to face her opponent head-on. From there progresses a masterfully written, incredibly performed drama about conviction and perspective as these characters try to sort out the difficulty of existing in an imperfect world with no certainty. Adapted by John Patrick Shanley (who also directs) from his own Pulitzer Prize-winning play, the film is quite obviously interpreted from the theatre (it’s told mostly in long two-hander scenes) yet doesn’t suffer from staginess. Shanley uses the claustrophobic settings to his advantage and relies on his incredible writing, which is made richer by effective uses of humour, and a perfect cast of actors: Streep is so electrifying that her every word will leave you hanging for more, while Adams, Hoffman and especially Viola Davis (who is unforgettable as the student’s mother in just one sequence) contribute immense strength to the proceedings. It feels at times like you’re watching a filmed play, but damn it all to hell, what a play!