UK Release Date: 29th January 2016
Runtime: 129 minutes
Director: Tom McCarthy
Writer: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Brian d’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup
Synopsis: A team of investigative journalists in Boston uncover an insidious epidemic of child sexual abuse within the Catholic church in the city.
There are two ways to make films about journalism. There are those that, like The Fifth Estate, try to stylise the process in an effort to make it more cinematic. The other approach, however, is to allow the nitty gritty of true investigative work to come to the fore and speak for itself. By taking that approach and running with it, Spotlight is a genuinely thrilling take on the intricacies of the newsroom.
When new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) starts at the Boston Globe, he tasks Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton) and his Spotlight investigative team with doing some digging regarding child sexual abuse by Catholic priests. Robby asks reporter Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) to track down an attorney (Stanley Tucci) with crucial information, whilst colleague Sacha (Rachel McAdams) encourages victims of abuse to talk on the record.
At the centre of Spotlight is a genuinely unbelievable true story about sexual abuse on an enormous scale within the church. It’s a story that we’ve grown sadly familiar with over recent years, but that has done nothing to dilute its power. Wisely, director Tom McCarthy opts for a distinctly unshowy approach to tell that story, letting the characters and the sheer weight of the revelations carry the weight of the film.
| “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.”
It’s an ensemble movie in the most traditional sense, with no clear lead performer. Mark Ruffalo, as Mike Rezendes, is the standout and indeed gets the one moment of awards-baiting bluster. Michael Keaton is exceptionally plausible as the editor who keeps patiently driving deeper into the story and Rachel McAdams has a nice side plot as she struggles with the intense Catholic faith of her own family. Liev Schreiber, in perhaps the most important role of all, is quietly intriguing as the outsider uncovering the dark corruption buried deeply within the fabric of his new home.
In many ways, it’s that examination of how deeply this conspiracy ran that is Spotlight’s true strength. No one in Boston was blameless in the abuse scandal, including the very journalists who ultimately uncovered it. Spotlight pulls no punches in examining the role the Boston Globe played in keeping abuse under wraps, acknowledging the complex morality at play rather than painting halos around the heads of its protagonists as many a lesser film would have done.
Spotlight is a film that sweats the small stuff, focusing in on the dense, procedural detail of the central investigative team and their work. It’s an insightful look into the true level of work that goes into the best journalism, mining real drama and tension from something as simple as whether Mark Ruffalo was going to be able to photocopy some paperwork. Everything that happened in Spotlight feels tremendously important and that’s testament to a director who never feels the need to intrude into his story.
| “You know why I went along with everything? Because priests, are supposed to be the good guys.”
With the focus away from noise and showmanship, Spotlight feels like old-fashioned filmmaking in the best sense of that phrase. It is delightfully and importantly stripped down to the core essentials of movie-making – solid visuals and truly impeccable acting. It knows the importance of its subject matter and treats it with appropriate gravitas and sensitivity.
Pop or Poop?
Awards season is often filled with films that take real life stories and embellish them in order to win golden statues. It’s fair to say that Spotlight is the antithesis of those films in every way.
It’s a patient and subdued film powered by its performances and the sophistication with which it handles its controversial subject matter. If awards do come its way, they are richly deserved.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.