As many movie fans know by now, the prologue to last summer's Tropic Thunder features some brilliant spoof trailers, including one for a phony film called Satan's Alley (which won the "coveted Crying Monkey Award at the Beijing Film Festival"). Better seen than described, it's a brilliant deconstruction of every pompous award-hungry film that comes out in December. The trailer for John Patrick Shanley's Doubt looks a lot like that, but if I've learned one thing this year, it's to not trust trailers. Happily, the real Doubt is a great deal sprightlier, cleverer and more powerful than its dreadful promo would suggest.

Shanley is a playwright who occasionally forays into movies, and he adapted his own 2004 play into the screenplay for Doubt. He won a Best Screenplay Oscar for Moonstruck (1987), and his other writing work ranges from Five Corners (1987) to an adaptation of Congo (1995). As a director, Doubt is only his second feature; his first came 18 years ago, with the bizarre, wonderful, underrated Joe vs. the Volcano (1990). That movie was a highly stylized, colorful, very dry, very black romantic comedy that left most Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan fans (or, to put it another way, just about everybody on the planet) completely baffled. Shanley brings some of that same skill and style to Doubt, although this time expectations and delivery are more in harmony.