Review by Jack Foley
MERYL Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams deliver an acting masterclass in John Patrick Shanley’s absorbing adaptation of his own Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play which, like its name suggests, also comes coated in a wonderful moral ambiguity.
Streep will land the majority of the plaudits for her masterful portrayal of the daunting Sister Aloysius (she’s already landed her 15th Oscar nomination), but Hoffman is a worthy adversary when the two finally go head-to-head, and Adams proves that she’s very much an actress of Streep-like calibre.
It may be too wordy for some, and too ambiguous for others… but Shanley treats his viewers like adults and delivers an ending that will certainly leave you thinking for some time afterwards.
It’s New York, 1963, and likeable new priest Father Flynn (Hoffman) is making a name for himself at a Catholic school also presided over by the no-nonsense Sister Aloysius (Streep). Flynn’s open, embracing style flies in the face of the rigid Aloysius’ firm policies.
When Sister James (Adams) comes to her Sister Superior with concerns that Flynn may have taken advantage of an altar boy, who also happens to be the only black boy in the school, Aloysius resolves to rid the parish of Flynn. But with so little evidence, can she really be sure.
Shanley asks some tough questions of his characters, and his viewers, and refuses to present any easy answers. Flynn could be a tainted hero, just as Aloysius could be an unlikely dark knight of sorts. Their guilt and/or wrongness could be interpreted in many different ways.
And while some may lament the lack of closure Shanley’s screenplay affords, others will revel in the debate it kickstarts afterwards.
Fascinating, too, are the insights the director’s camera affords into the life of the nuns in ’60s New York, which shows a keen eye for period detail.
But its the performances you’ll remember longest afterwards, with everyone excelling in each other’s company – seemingly buoyed by the reputations on show. A three-way confrontation between Adams, Hoffman and Streep is particularly compelling early on, while the final exchange between Flynn and Aloysius is as incendiary as we had every right to expect.
Watch out, too, for yet another Oscar nominated performance from Viola Davis, as the potential boy victim’s conflicted mother.
There’s little doubt, therefore, that this comes highly recommended.
Running time: 104mins
UK DVD and Blu-ray Release: July 6, 2009
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
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- Amy Adams interview
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