Spotlight (2015)

Director: Tom McCarthy
Writers: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian d’Arcy James
Genre: Drama

Much like the journalists it portrays, Spotlight seeks the truth at the heart of its story, no matter how difficult it is to uncover. Consistently gripping and solidly acted, it tells the story of the real-life investigative Spotlight team at the Boston Globe as they discover and expose cover-ups child molestation by Catholic priests in the Boston Archdiocese. The movie opts for a muted tone and palette, preferring subtlety to melodrama, which is effective in reflecting not only its choice to place the journalists—not the victims nor the perpetrators—at the centre of its attention, but also the seriousness of the story. Spotlight isn’t interested in manipulating the story into being a tearjerker; it doesn’t have a momentous, gut-punching moment that is sure to provoke an emotional reaction out of the viewer, but it does leave us in anger at the atrocities that have occurred. This anger is mirrored in the building undercurrent of tension throughout the film as the journalists race against the clock to expose the church’s crimes. Writer-director Tom McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer refuse to be anything but honest, and in that, more than does justice to the sensitive subject-matter.

Much of Spotlight’s strength is anchored in its characters and immensely consistent ensemble cast, one of the best of the year. McCarthy’s simple and uncomplicated direction allows his actors to shine. Each character is compelling and portrayed in a nuanced and complex manner that brings humanity and empathy. Like in the story itself, *Spotlight* is a team effort, and so there’s no lead character in the movie and no standout performance. If there was a lead, it would probably be Michael Keaton, who portrays the head of the Spotlight team Walter “Robby” Robinson. Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer gives a performance that is sensitive and heartfelt. Liev Schreiber, playing the stoic new incoming editor of the Boston Globes who pushes the Spotlight team to embark on their assignment, is subtle but strong; and Mark Ruffalo’s turn as the awkward but endearing Michael Rezendes is commendable although at times a little too affected. John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, and Stanley Tucci round out the cast with equally solid performances. The chemistry between the actors, particularly those portraying characters in the Spotlight team, is excellent, and some of the best scenes in the film is of them working together and playing off each other.

So often workplace dramas are weighed down by unnecessary personal subplots, but Spotlight shies away from that. However, this doesn’t mean that its characters aren’t explored beyond their role as professionals. All of them are lapsed Catholics, which provides an interesting underlying dynamic between their personal beliefs and those of the people they are fighting against. Schreiber’s Marty Baron, being Jewish, finds it hard integrating into the traditionally Catholic city of Boston. Robinson is forced to confront and betray long-time friends who have been involved in the cover-up. Pfeiffer is concerned about her Catholic grandmother’s reaction to the scandal. Rezendes, who becomes the most emotionally entangled in the case, struggles to reconcile the systemic crimes of the Church with the religion he grew up with and always believed he would eventually return to.

McCarthy and Singer weave a detailed tapestry of both the city of Boston and the Boston Globe, showing both at its highest and lowest. It’s a tribute to old-fashioned investigative journalism at its best; showcasing the newspaper’s doggedness and determination in seeking the hardest of truths. But importantly, Spotlight isn’t ignorant to the paper’s failings; in acknowledging the Globe’s wilful ignorance of the many hints given to them of the crimes, it draws a parallel with the faults of the insular Boston community as a whole in conspiratorially covering them up. Much of the film’s impact comes from holding these institutions accountable for their actions. From a cinematic or thematic perspective, it’s largely unspectacular, but what McCarthy understands is that with a story like this, it doesn’t need to be filled with flair to be powerful. Whether it is better than some of the other Best Picture nominees is debatable, but Spotlight is a deserving winner of the honour.

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