by Tony Medley
Run Time 104 minutes
The Catholic Church is
deserving of criticism on many points, none more severe than the scandal
of priests preying on young boys, and the way Bishops have mishandled
it. But the vast majority of priests are good men and their reputations
have been scorched by this scandal. This movie seems to me to be just
more piling on. If writer-director John Patrick Shanley wants to attack
the Church on this point, he should take on the Bishops that covered it
up, not cast more aspersions at parish priests.
This was originally a
prize-winning play by Shanley. He has translated it to the screen and
directed his own screenplay. Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) is
principal of St. Nicholas, a grammar school in The Bronx. She suspects,
out of thin air and on skimpy information (actually no information, if
you analyze it) provided by Sister James (Amy Adams), that Father Flynn
(Philip Seymour Hoffman) has an inappropriate relationship with a new
student, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster II), the only black student in the
Shanley is no dummy. He
undoubtedly knew that if he wrote something like this attacking the
Church, it would almost certainly be produced, since it appeals to the
anti-Catholic prejudice of the elite intellectuals. Shanley takes
advantage of Patrick Buchanan’s dictum that anti-Catholicism is the
anti-Semitism of the intellectual.
What is really harmful
about this film is that it draws the inescapable conclusion that a grown
man can’t be a friend and mentor to a young boy, especially if he’s a
Catholic priest, without some ulterior sexual motive, or at least being
accused of it. A movie like this makes a well-intentioned man think
twice before putting himself in the compromising position of being a
mentor to a young boy. But Shanley is clearly not interested in the harm
that something like this could cause.
Father Flynn is a priest
like no other, clearly out of Shanley’s vivid imagination. Fr. Flynn
actually gives wonderful, interesting, short sermons. That’s a fantasy
of which Catholics, trapped in their Sunday pews, can only dream.
The acting is exceptional.
Even so, Streep, for all her acclaim, shows she can’t shed tears on cue,
much like her Oscar®-wining compatriot, Sean Penn, who won for a role in
“Mystic River” that had him moaning and groaning without losing a drop
of fluid. As far as crying tears on cue, she is out-acted by both Adams
and Viola Davis, who plays Donald Miller’s mother. Davis has a short
scene near the end of the film, but makes the most of it with an
Adams gives another
remarkable performance. Her rendering of a young nun on the horns of a
dilemma is well worth the price of admission. She is already as bright a
star as there is in Hollywood. Hoffman’s performance is nothing short of
superb. Except for her inept bawling, Streep gives a good performance as
the Principal who acts with unquestioning certitude on no evidence
As reprehensible as the
possible ramifications of Shanley’s story is, the moral that it draws,
that the end justifies the means is not something that’s taught by the
Catholic Church, and it’s certainly contrary to Judeo-Christian
The denouement is
absolutely without any rationality, just a stacked deck by the writer.
It’s a shame that a film so well acted has such a weak basis. There are
no facts to justify how it ends. Shanley has manipulated the story to end it
in a PC way.
This is a long 104 minutes.
The first hour is especially slow. It could have been a mildly
interesting half hour TV drama, but not a major motion picture. The
acting is the only justification for attending, but the story is so
ludicrous, defying rational human behavior, that it doesn’t measure up
to the wonderful performances.
December 5, 2008