Who’s In It: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis
The Basics: Hoffman is a touchy-feely priest who has possibly been a little too touchy and feely with a Catholic school’s first African-American student (it’s 1964, by the way) and nun-on-the-rampage Streep is out to get him, even if she might be wrong. Rookie nun Amy Adams tries to run interference, but gets slapped back into her place pretty quickly. You don’t mess with two Capital-A actors when they decide to play the game of Who Can Yell The Loudest.
What’s The Deal: It doesn’t matter that this drama is overacted, overblown and overly filled with symbolic clutter. (Literal cats catch literal mice, windows need closing due to gusty, whipping "winds of change," lights blow out, phones ring like fire alarms, forgiveness-snow falls.) You want to see Godzilla stomp Tokyo. And here Streep is a colder, meaner, more stern Miranda Priestly turned up to 11. Watching her chew people up and spit them out is a pleasure, but that she doesn’t also breathe actual atomic fire was kind of a disappointing surprise for me, personally.
The Cast Member Most Behaving Like She’s In An Entirely Other, Better Movie: Viola Davis (if you saw Nights in Rodanthe, she was Diane Lane’s innkeeper friend), as the possibly violated child’s mother, shows up for a total of two short scenes where she throws a moral judgment-bludgeoning wrench into the narrative and pretty much earns herself an Oscar. For a second you realize the movie could have actually mattered.
Production Design Addict Alert: It’s a fact that if a nicely budgeted film is not so awesome, you can always check out the furniture. I spent half the movie wishing they’d go back to Meryl Streep’s office so I could be envious of the amazing old wooden filing cabinets the set decorators stationed along the wall. Every period detail is impeccable, so there's a lot of good-looking vintage stuff onscreen at all times.
What It Proves: That the guy who writes the original script of a tight, claustrophobic little drama should not be the guy in charge of writing the screenplay and directing the loose, loud screen version, especially if his one other directing credit is Joe Versus the Volcano.