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Powerful performances and a tight script that ask audiences to focus on making change in our society.

 

In today’s society, almost overwhelmingly saturated with click-bait articles and slideshows of celebrity shopping list items, it’s easy to forget that not long ago people used to take the idea of news seriously. Granted, the internet has become the foremost perpetrator to this steep decline in respectable reporting, but if you think back over the past decade, it’s depressing to see how little attention is given to the hard truth-finding people of the printed press these days. On the other hand, it almost seems like every generation gets a film on such a topic that also happens to be a masterpiece, such as the 1970’s All the President’s Men, and Ace in the Hole in the 1950s. It’s the tail end of 2015, so it’s time for our generation’s landmark printed news film to arrive.

Enter Spotlight, by established director Tom McCarthy. Spotlight is a confident work that ignores the fluff so often packed into journalistic prose to instead focus on the meaty subject at hand. In fact, it’s almost surreal to see a film that so reflects what it’s about, something that possesses all the qualities portrayed in itself. Had it been anything different, it could’ve been the butt of many a journalistic joke, but because Spotlight nails its point so remarkably well, it only aids itself in being something truly right for the moment.

The year is 2001, and “Spotlight” is a tiny organization within the Boston Globe, amidst the oncoming of a blistery winter. It is led by Rob, played by Michael Keaton, and made up of Sacha, Matt, and Mike, played by Rachel McAdams, Brian James, and Mark Ruffalo, respectively. It’s not a large group because the Globe doesn’t feel the need to expand them, so they work with what and whom they have to turn the “spotlight” on certain topics often ignored by the bigger outlets. These topics have a range, but the topic in question here is arguably the biggest they’ve had in decades: the topic of child molestation by local priests in the area. When the crew focuses the light on the sickening reality of the situation, they find there to be more scattering cockroaches than they could’ve imagined.

Child molestation, especially by priests, is a sensitive subject for any information medium, as it can pertain to just about anybody and is something so often suppressed by victims and shoved out of the mind of those ignorant to it. This was hugely prevalent in 2001, but, sadly, has only gotten slightly more attention in today’s society. The looming onset of winter in the film could be seen as a metaphor for the impending explosion of information regarding this terrible crime, as more of the exploration into this cold subject reflects the feeling more literally around Boston. While the film is, at times, almost unbearably realistic, the world surrounding Spotlight and its crew seems just as cold as the temperatures, with so many interviewees seemingly hiding something, afraid to let it get out, for the safety of themselves and others. As Rob and his crew dig deeper into the problem, the audience is introduced to more people who seem legitimate on the outside but harbor more corrupt intentions when the spotlight (hard to avoid this term) is shown on them. The way McCarthy handles this is a more realistic approach to filmmaking. No explosions, no fistfights, no crazy camera movements; just a static camera and a dialogue-heavy style of shooting. It’s a necessary approach, keeping the camera close up to the characters, to keep things intimate and controlled. To beat a dead horse, it’s as if McCarthy was holding the camera like an actual spotlight, shining it close to the character’s faces as they’re being interviewed. Like All The President’s Men, it’s like a documentary without the narrator.

This is an ensemble cast, with no real character being a “lead,” despite the different ranks within the Globe. The performances are big, but subdued; the camera doing the work of embellishing them without the actors themselves having to overdo it. When your script and narrative as a whole run primarily on dialogue, it’s easy for the performers to quickly run away with their craft, but because of the way it’s shot, each actor gets their own time to shine without having to delve into Laurence Olivier territory. While the central performers all knock it out of the park, I found myself more absorbed by the performances of the supporting characters. Stanley Tucci is both menacing and manipulative as ferocious attorney Mitchell Garabedian. On the other side of the personality, Marty Baron, a more quiet but opinionated new higher up at the Globe played by Leiv Schreiber. Billy Crudup does a fantastic job as Eric MacLeish, an attorney keeping information from Spotlight, and Neal Huff shows a particularly heartbreaking and great performance as Phil Saviano, a victim of molestation by a priest and an advocate for change and justice for all victims of the same crime. The film is a fantastic showcase of what can happen when you give a tight script to a set of fantastic actors at the height of their power.

There isn’t much more to be said about Spotlight that hasn’t been championed all around any news medium. At just over two hours, this is a film almost playing a façade, a grand epic taking place nowhere but small rooms and Boston homes, an action film using no other weapons than words and arguments. It should absolutely open the eyes of audiences either too ignorant to notice or too weak to examine a subject that, while certainly gaining steam in today’s society, needs the right kind of push to stand at the front of the crowd. Spotlight is this generation’s change film, and one you’ll surely be seeing much more of come awards season. It still hasn’t seen a wide release, so keep an eye out for when it opens in a theater in your area.

 

Directed By: Thomas McCarthy

Produced By: Steve Golin, Blye Faust, Nicole Rocklin, and Michael Sugar

Written By: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Leiv Schreiber

Distributed By: Open Road Films

Release Date: November 6, 2015

Run Time: 129 Minutes

Rating: R

About The Author

Steve Carley

Steve Carley is a Michigan-born lover and resident of the film industry in Atlanta, Georgia. When he's not infiltrating the nearest Waffle House or giving up on the most recent movie-adapted book he can be seen lounging in his apartment complex's pool and regretting the way he wrote his Film Takeout bio.