Spotlight – Film Review


Spotlight – Film Review by Shane Larkin

Director: Tom McCarthy
Writers: Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy
Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams

The newspaper procedural as a subgenre has always offered a foolproof conceit upon which to build an engaging story. An investigation unfolds, pulsating with a relentless sense of onward momentum and just cause, and the audience gets to feel just as clever, frustrated and elated as the ink-stained heroes unearthing the conspiracy at the heart of everything. Co-Writer/Director Tom McCarthy nobly throws his trilby into the ring with Spotlight, operating very much along the lines of All the President’s Men and the like and contributing to this rich cinematic tradition in admirably restrained fashion. It’s successes lie in what it manages to avoid doing as much as what it does do.
This is about the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team, and how they came to expose the Catholic Church’s involvement in protecting priests accused of molesting children in the city. Their 2001 investigation and the articles written throughout 2002 (over 600 in total) pulled a thread that ran across the rest of the country, and eventually the world, as more and more victims came forward and countless dioceses were forced to come clean. The team was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for their work.

The stellar cast provide a sturdy backbone here. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James make up the Spotlight team, all sleepless and intense, each capable of running away with the movie whenever they want. Crucial support is provided by Stanley Tucci as the overworked Mitchell Garabedian, Billy Crudup as conflicted lawyer Eric MacLeish, and Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron, the weary but resolute new editor of the Globe who cajoles the team into looking deeper into the case. It’s pitch-perfect casting.

Discerning and unsentimental, the film is empathetic without demanding pity or indulging in shameless theatrics. The feelings it provokes emerge naturally and feel well-earned. The pain of the victims is not the focus here and any lionizing of the main characters is kept to a minimum. Ultimately, it’s a film about the nuts and bolts of newspaper journalism. Cramped cubicles, filing cabinets, basement research montages, creased shirts and khakis. They’re on and off phones, downing coffee, chasing leads. There’s a particularly sly and prescient image of an AOL billboard looming over the Globe’s parking lot at one point, and the implications are all too clear. An investigation like this could never happen today, at least not in the way that it did in 2001, when the internet was still in its relative infancy.

The movie eschews the formal elegance of something like All the President’s Men or David Fincher’s Zodiac in favour of a more workmanlike, no-nonsense approach which might leave some feeling alienated, and Howard Shore’s repetitive piano score doesn’t quite hit the right note. It feels a little strained. But I admired McCarthy and co’s refusal to manufacture cheap drama. The horror of the situation is not the focus but it does seep in; as the characters become more and more invested, so do we. And instead of merely indicting the monsters of the story, we see how easy it is to become jaded by a seemingly impermeable system. This is proper, grown-up drama in the vein of David Simon and vintage Sidney Lumet, tackling an important subject we’re all too familiar with in this country and serving as a worthy tribute to tireless, old-fashioned reporting.


Categories: Header, Movie Review, Movies

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