The acting was exceptional. Across the board, every actor excelled. These are the roles that Meryl Streep was born to do. And Philip Seymour Hoffman – wow. He was so cleanly-creepy that I cringed every time his long nails were displayed.
And there were a few moments where I felt like I was a lucky fly on the wall, listening in on conversations, watching the drama in the Catholic school unfold. But overall, the movie fell below expectations, mostly due to decisions made by the director.
In a movie where the acting is exceptional and emotions run high, I feel it is best to let the camera be as unobtrusive as possible, but director John Patrick Shanley in his first real directorial effort, does the opposite. There are scenes where the camera suddenly drops down and frames the character from below, immediately snapping the viewers attention away from the conversation and onto where the camera is instead. Ugh. The one-on-one scenes between Meryl Streep and Amy Adams and between Hoffman and Adams are scenes where there is a lot being said between the lines and the actors carry the scenes – instead of cocooning the audience and making them feel unobtrusive, they are suddenly thrust into the conversation – breaking the spell the actors have cast. Unfortunate.
The strange and forced camera angles to emphasize mood and tone is repeated at various points in the movie – in a shot where Streep walks in out of a storm and through a corridor in the school, Shanley chooses an off kilter camera angle to emphasize the emotional state of the characters. Why, why, why?? Please don’t beat us over the head with it.
I had similar issues with the screenplay too (written by Shanley) – when there is a tense scene, the setting is a storm. High winds are constantly blowing branches to the ground. It’s all a bit much. A lighter touch would have given the solid story and intense acting the space they needed to make the movie truly top-notch.
Here’s my initial reaction to the movie on twitter:
Six weeks later, the only change I would make is downgrade the 7.5 rating to a 6.5.