‘Doubting Thomas’ Festival Review
In watching Doubting Thomas I am reminded of the scene in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Gertrude Stein mentions to Gil that Ernest Hemingway can’t believe that Gil’s protagonist can’t see his fiance having an affair right in front of his eyes. Gil simply responds: “denial.”
Denial. I’ve been there, as many of us have. The assumed affair in Doubting Thomas is no secret; the trailer and synopsis tell the audience immediately that something isn’t right. A white couple gives birth to a black baby, and suddenly Tom (Will McFadden), the white expecting father, and his best friend Ron (Jamie Hector), the black man that is deeply intertwined in Tom and Jen’s (Sarah Butler) personal life, are face-to-face with the realization their friendship could possibly be something less than it appears to be.
It appears to be all there is to the plot of Doubting Thomas. But it’s not. Not even close. Doubting Thomas dives into this situation much deeper, with the birth happening fairly early in the movie, and Tom’s wife knows, or is at least convincing him, that the baby is his. What Tom has to do for the rest of the movie is make decisions on trust, not only regarding his wife but also his best friend, and that leads to a number of questions both for his character, and the audience.
To better understand everything that is going on, one must make it far enough into Doubting Thomas to understand McFadden’s Tom. Tom’s trust and love sits entirely with his spouse and best friend, as the rest of his family is no longer a part of his life. His mother broke his trust in women early by leaving him and his father, and his father has since passed.
As a father, as a person who has been with somebody unfaithful, and as a person who spent a good portion of his adult life putting all that love into that one basket, Doubting Thomas became incredibly uncomfortable for me a half hour in. And that is exactly what the movie intends to do. The doubt created by that discomfort and the questions it raises are what makes it all work.
The core cast does a good job of making that tense discomfort sit for a good portion of the movie. Unfortunately, McFadden, Hector, and Butler aren’t surrounded by a cast that pulls equal weight. Most notably when Jen’s family comes into a scene and delivers a very underwhelming performance that needed to be a knockout punch for the film. But the underwhelming performances of others don’t hinder the movie as it lives and dies on the main three, with them taking up almost all the screen time.
The three do incredibly well together and easily carry the film. McFadden does a great job of selling to the audience he is really dealing with these emotions, especially to those watching who have experienced this kind of doubt before. Hector delivers the performance of the movie though, as he takes every scene he’s in and elevates it entirely; especially near the end. Butler’s ability to play off both leading men creates further doubt from the audience and allows for all scenarios to play out in the viewers’ minds prior to actually being told what is going on.
Cinematically, Doubting Thomas has its shortcomings; after all, it is an independent film with a very limited budget. The film could have held its audience more effectively with better editing and cinematography earlier in the film. Early scenes don’t give the audience enough. They are quick, one angle takes that move in-and-out of the moment very fast, failing to allow viewers to draw a deep connection with McFadden’s character when it is really needed early.
Thankfully the film vastly improves in both categories as the movie plays on, with scenes developing more and the cinematography getting much better about a half hour in. This is crucial, because when scenes are able to develop we’re given a deep view into Tom’s past allowing us to better see why the internal struggle of trust is present. A long conversation between the married couple after the baby is born gives the audience insight into the emotional magnitude of the situation and makes us all choose between blind trust of a loved one or wanting to call somebody out on their presumed lies.
Doubting Thomas’ conflict is sorted before the climax of the film in a manner that some might find unsatisfactory. That’s because McFadden hits us with the Kansas City Shuffle (look it up). After nearly an hour and a half dealing with the questions of affairs and trust, we learn the core of the film has nothing to do with that, even though it is a strong theme throughout.
The way Doubting Thomas wraps should make everybody reflect on what it does focus on though. Especially if the conclusion you came to while watching was the wrong one.
Worth A Look
After a white couple inexplicably gives birth to a black child, the purest bonds of trust, friendship, and love are put to the ultimate test.