PERFORMANCE: Viola Davis goes head-to-head with Meryl Streep in “Doubt”


Doubt is a 2008 film adaptation of John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize winning fictive stage play Doubt: A Parable. Written and directed by Shanley and produced by Scott Rudin, the film stars Meryl StreepPhilip Seymour HoffmanAmy Adams, and Viola Davis. It premiered October 30, 2008 at the AFI Fest before being distributed by Miramax Films in limited release on December 12, 2008 and in wide release on December 25.

The film's four main actors were heavily praised for their acting, and all of them were nominated for Oscars at the 81st Academy Awards. Viola Davis received her first nomination and Amy Adams received her second nomination for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Philip Seymour Hoffman received his second nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and third overall, while Meryl Streep received her twelfth nomination for Best Actress and her fifteenth overall.

This is my go-to scene for the raw dissection of the craft.

In this scene, two giants (Meryl Streep & Viola Davis) go toe-to-toe. This is the first time, I think, that I’ve seen Meryl have to actually WORK to keep up with a co-star. Viola is a beast. No doubt about it.

Stand-out Moments In The Scene:

  • The avoidance Viola laces the character in, is SO beautiful. So real. So HUMAN.
  • “Sister, you ain’t goin’ against no man in a robe, and win. He’s got the position!” | “And he’s got your son!!!” | “LET HIM HAVE HIM THEN!!!” - - -BOOM! That line is just…fuuuuuck! “Let him have him then!” This woman just told you that she believes your son is being inappropriately manipulated by this grown man, and you respond with: “Let him have him then!” My god! The desperation of a mother who believes that her son being in this school is important enough to allow some grown man to lead him into an inappropriate relationship! Damn. What a beautifully raw and flawed human being!
  • “What kind of mother are you?” | The moment between that line, and “Mrs. Miller’s” response to it is just DELICIOUS!! Viola allows that ATTACK to register, rest within her, and then be dismissed. She chose not to attack, but rather dismiss. “Excuse me, but you don’t know enough about life to say a thing like that sister.” | Wig = snatched!

  • By the time Viola/Mrs. Miller breaks on the line, “That’s why his father beat him…”, we’re already COMPLETELY invested in her story, her life, and the outcome. When she continues to reveal her families private info, Meryl’s eyes and defeat are just glorious! She (Meryl) entered the scene as this “Lion of Justice”, and ended up exiting the scene as a “withered, battle-worn, oak tree”. The journey of an actor! Beautiful.
  • Viola’s last line is perfect for closing the scene: “Sister, I don’t know if you and me are on the same side, but I’ll be standing with my son and those who are good with my son. It’d be nice to see you there. Good morning.” | Meryl/Sister Aloysius is no longer in control.
  • Did anyone notice how the entire scene up until 6:50 was void of music? GREAT CHOICE! Music tends to lead scenes. It tends to force an audience to FEEL a certain way. When music isn’t used, it leaves the emotions up to US. Some of us probably sided with Sister Aloysius. Some probably sided with Mrs. Miller. But that’s the beautiful thing: WE WERE ALLOWED TO DECIDE! We weren’t coerced by the soundtrack. | When the music does finally come in, it’s at the right moment. Accents the end of the tension and the fight. It’s an eerie composition. An eerie composition for an eerie scene!

The scene is SO beautifully crafted by the filmmakers, director, actors, etc. It flows seamlessly. The story is AIDED by the scene. That’s rare in today’s film market, sadly.