On that premise I did not want to watch this movie. But, all four of its primary actors were nominated for an academy award. I couldn’t pass it by. I’m glad I didn’t. The writing and all four performances were superb.
Meryl Streep demonstrates, once again, why she is the reigning queen of cinema. I disliked her character intensely. But there are layers to this nun that are not readily apparent. Each nuance is played to perfection by Streep – including a New Jersey accent and persona that is reminiscent of Edie Falco’s Carmela Soprano.
Philip Seymour Hoffman knocks another one out of the park. Prior to seeing the movie I doubted that an actor that so convincingly played Truman Capote and a cynical spy in Charlie Wilson’s War could pull off a sympathetic Catholic priest. But he did.
I’m a bit concerned that Amy Adams is getting stuck in a type-cast ghetto. As in Enchanted (2007) and June Bug (2005), she plays a pure-as-the driven-snow, bubbly and naive character. In this case – a junior nun wanting to believe that the priest didn’t do it. She is nominated here for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Amy is very good as this type of character and her performance, I guess, is once again worthy of an Oscar nomination. But I’m starting to feel I’ve ‘seen-it-all-before’ with her. I hope she picks roles that broaden her range in the future.
TV star Viola Davis is also nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. She plays the mother of the alter boy. Her surprisingly excellent performance lasts, perhaps, less than 10 minutes. I hadn’t expected it to be interesting, let alone Oscar worthy. But it was. As with Streep’s character, there are unexpected nuances skillfully performed by Viola.
An unseen star of the film is John Patrick Shanley, the screenplay writer (and director). The movie has been nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. The writing is first rate. Particularly Hoffman’s sermons and the verbal sparring matches between Streep and Hoffman and Streep and Viola Davis.
One of the many memorable quotes in this movie was delivered by Hoffman to Adams in the scene depicted above:
“There are people who go after your humanity sister. They tell you that the light in your heart is a weakness. Don’t believe it. It’s an old tactic of cruel people to kill kindness in the name of virtue.”
This is not a blockbuster. It is small and intimate – like a thought provoking novelette read over a cup of tea. Once it gets rolling, each scene is intensely interesting. I highly recommend it.