Writer-director Shanley's adaptation of his own Broadway play is a brisk, witty, and perhaps overly brief account of a Catholic school in 1964, whose newish priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is friendlier with his parishioners than the brittle old nun principal (Meryl Streep) would like. When younger nun Amy Adams sees something that makes her suspicious of the priest's relationship with the school's lone black boy, Streep picks it up and runs with it, hoping to kick the priest out of the school even when she has no proof besides Adams's increasingly shaky testimony and her own prejudices.
Strongly acted and well-written, the film almost escapes its theatrical trappings, but in the end it doesn't amount to much. I wasn't asking for grand melodrama, but there is so much to dive into, regarding race, religion, sexuality, and the a-changin' times – specifically, what is known as "Vatican II", the Second Vatican Council, which greatly altered the church at that time. But it's all just hinted at, serving as a backdrop for what is mostly a three-person drama (with a notable appearance by Viola Davis as the boy's mother) about a mean old nun. At least that's how it comes across under the writer's swift direction. I also found the film's use of metaphor a little too obvious. (What's that wind blowing through your window, Meryl? Could it be the wind of change?)
I still liked Doubt. Streep and Hoffman are great, and not in their usual ways, and Adams is cute as a button while once again proving herself a strong actress. The casting is perfect, in fact. But I do wish the film had more of an impact.