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New on DVD: 'Doubt' is good, but play was better

Having been raised a Roman Catholic in an East Coast city around the same time as John Patrick Shanley, I easily recognized the world he created in Doubt.

Shanley, who wrote the original play and is the director-screenwriter of the movie, sets Doubt ($29.99, $34.99 on Blu-ray) in 1964. It's a year after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and two years after the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (or Vatican II, as it was called), which began to liberalize the church (Mass was allowed to be said in English).

Still running the day-to-day show at the Catholic schools and catechisms, however, were a lot of older nuns — like Doubt's Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep). They ruled with an iron will and could zero in on (and quash) any mischief with an uncanny ability. As in Doubt, the old ways clashed with the gentler, kinder new ways, which are represented by younger priests and nuns like Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Sister James (Amy Adams).

Doubt, which revolves around suspicions of child molestation, was first staged in 2004 and came on the heels of the Roman Catholic Church sex-abuse scandals. Set on a fairly bare-bones stage, Shanley has fleshed out the atmosphere — shots of crosses, rosaries, pews, etc. — to give the movie some color but has trimmed some of the color of the play.

Doubt is above all theatrical. Shanley won an Oscar for writing Moonstruck, so you know he knows how to be entertaining. His works are like terrific pop songs — outsized, entertaining and even a bit thought-provoking.

The play of Doubt, though, lets you see more into the character of Sister Aloysius. When it was performed on Broadway, Cherry Jones, who won a Tony for the role, was a commanding presence. But some of the character's background has been cut, and Streep plays the sister more broadly, with a hint of the blarney. It's a thoroughly enjoyable movie performance, although Jones — who is dutifully thanked at the end of the film — was more believable.

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