When we allow the true assertions found in Spotlight to truly sink in, that the ‘Boston Globe’ found nearly ninety priests that had been in Boston within the scope of this film’s time-frame who had sexually abused young children, it’s really the picture of that many different men that is so surprising. To put it in context, how many people thought there were much more than ninety priests in the whole city anyway?
The point is, Spotlight is a film that understands what good film-making is about. The film unwinds as our group of journalists, the main cogs in the ‘Spotlight’ investigative journalism crew at the Globe, learn more and more about the sequence of events that unravel as they dig deeper and deeper into their story. It seems that a priest is found out, marked ‘absent’ or on ‘sick leave’ in the church directory, and eventually relocated to practice in a different church away from the original city. Then, slowly but surely, they would begin the process all over again of abusing children, not just boys but all children, sexually and aggressively. In addition to uncovering this and wanting to put a (cough) spotlight on these tragedies, they also want to attack the foundation that continues to allow it to happen and turn a blind eye.
Our ‘Spotlight’ team, whom the movie centers around, are played by three strong investigative journalists (Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James) and their team leader (Michael Keaton). This team is being planned often by the section editor (John Slattery) but ultimately answering to the Globes’ brand-new Editor in Chief (Liev Schreiber). Important bit parts are played by notable actors like Stanley Tucci, Jamey Sheridan, Billy Crudup, and Neal Huff. This team, thanks to a hungry new editor and some great reporters, begins digging into a clearly interesting story that had always been pushed aside in the paper’s past. What results is the best investigative journalism film since All the President’s Men.
Not only is it Tom McCarthy’s at-long-last break into legitimate directing after three good indies and a couple recent disasters (Million Dollar Arm and The Cobbler), but it’s a wonderfully shot, poignant, graceful film with true respect to the journalism field and to telling a proper story. The camera-work is modern, it’s crisp, but the film’s technicality does not impede some great stationary shots that just show this buzzing newsroom at work. The Boston Globe is a legitimate paper, and this movie proves that quite a bit, the thinking, resources, and time spent on making this a great story that would inspire systematic change makes the entire process riveting.
There’s not necessarily a central conflict, there’s not really even a main villain to oppose the characters outside of the actual entity of the Catholic Church. If anything is the opposing force, it’s the willingness to be complacent in knowing this kind of detrimental information. Much of what the film tries to do is not necessarily to uncover the problem, but also do enough to change it. The broader scope, and the way that the Globe wanted to tell this story is what makes the pay-off so absolutely worth it. It’s really two hours and change of watching reporters do research, and every second of it was absolutely riveting, incredible.
The tone is somewhat subdued here, which is surprisingly nice despite the fun and energetic feel of a film like Steve Jobs where more is placed on the scene to scene transitions and crafting a locomotive of a movie that is just ‘on’ for two hours, see O’Russell, David or Scorsese, Martin. Spotlight is more about what the film doesn’t tell you, and is perfectly content having you watch a slower-moving conversation or a phone call in detail. The pacing never dies, it moves well, and eclipses a large amount of time, but it clearly is okay from backing off this prestige pic trend of having every character talk faster than Jim Carrey after three Red-Bulls.
When McCarthy, also a primary script-writer on this, does halt the investigative process to show a more emotional conversation, it’s done with care to show how important the concept is, and how important it is to the victims of this abuse. These journalists work hard on this matter because they care and possess a level of humanity that transcends the movie. Small scenes where instead of tears being shed, we get a few lip movements and some teary-eyed blinks in response to the victims’ stories bring a sudden, crashing sense of emotional resonance that instantly hits. The film is so meticulously crafted that even these moments never feel forced, they feel so carefully imagined to be truthful.
In terms of its best performance, and the one that will crop up most come Oscar-time, it was really Mark Ruffalo who gives the most expressive performance, he gives one scene here that is the best of his whole career, but Michael Keaton symbolizes a few larger points about the story-telling of Spotlight and his presence is so sturdy and expressive here that he pulls even. Don’t be surprised if Rachel McAdams creeps up for Supporting Actress as well.
Spotlight doesn’t just function as a ‘spotlight,’ it functions as the journalist’s desire to open a floodgate and uncover the truth. As a drama, it’s excellent, but to continue the film excellence of showcasing investigative journalism, it nails that too.