Monday, Feb. 16, 2009

Viola Davis, Doubt

There's Acting — which Doubt has a lot of, mainly in Meryl Streep's harpyish (and Oscar-nominated) performance — and then there's acting, small a, the kind that opens a window onto a complex, troubled soul. That's what Davis brings to a smallish role as the mother of a boy implicated in a possible school sex scandal. Drop by careful drop, she pours out her heart, revealing the aspirations and desperation of any parent who'll fight to insure her son has a better life than she has. If that sounds like a line from an Obama speech, so be it. Such people exist; the world is better for their being in it, and Doubt is best when Davis is on-screen, inhabiting one of them. There's a wonderfully contained power in this performance: you respond as much to the fury held in as to the maternal anguish that seeps out. If Davis upsets Cruz, it will be because her emotional precision and devastating honesty stayed with Academy voters, and stared them down as they filled out the ballot. (Odds of winning: 3 to 1)