Director: Tom McCarthy
Cast: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian D’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Billy Crudup and Stanley Tucci
Plot: An investigative team working for the Boston Globe begin researching a Catholic Priest who abused children and realise they are on the brink of uncovering a massive conspiracy.
Every year when the OSCARs come around, there is always talk of a dark horse. A film that no one even considered in the run-up to the awards, yet as the date got closer, it became obviously clear that they had a very strong chance. Spotlight is probably the dark horse that actually won the award. In a festival hung up on the cinematic powerhouse that was the Revenant and performance pieces like Matt Damon’s the Martian, Spotlight wasn’t mentioned, until it received the nomination. Like the reporters this film is central to, it worked tirelessly yet quietly in the shadows, determined that its hard work would pay off.
The most incredible thing about Spotlight is how non-OSCAR the movie is. Sure, in terms of narrative, it has all the characteristics. Spotlight follows the news team that broke the story about the Catholic Church’s mass paedophile culture, one of the biggest conspiracies and horror stories the world has ever known. Right on everyone’s back door. But in terms of telling the story, it doesn’t seem overly showy. Even OSCAR dark horses try to break the mould in some unusual and imaginative way. Spotlight’s flashiest trick is a steadicam shot following one of the reporters travelling at a light jog in the night. The material merely unfolds, telling the audience what happened at a steady speed, so the true horror of the story is not lost on anyone. In fact, for a long time, this lack of showmanship is sort of frustrating. We have great actors like Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, yet none of them are allowed to fully tackle any meaty dialogue. Liev Schreiber barely gets to raise his voice above a nuanced whisper. The Catholic Priests are, for the most part, sentences on a page, rather than a visible threat. A lot of this film consists of the characters hunkered down over a text-book, furiously researching documents and crime reports in the hope that some strand of clue might end up pointing them further down the rabbit hole and to the truth of the nightmarish scenario they have found themselves in. While the burning sense of mystery – even if we all know how it ends – keeps up intrigued with the story, the rest of Tom McCarthy’s direction seems aimed to throw us off.
However, slowly, the movie ends up winning you over. It doesn’t change its style of story-telling at all, only we begin to understand why McCarthy has chosen to tell Spotlight in this manner. As the story gets close to its finish and we are genuinely gripped by what we are seeing, you find yourself hooked in the story. To give the actors dramatic back-stories would create a Hollywood surrealist feel and downplay the shock of this true story. It is far more powerful to hint to the characters’ lives than actually show us. As the movie nears the end, we are painfully aware we have only ever seen our heroes at work. McAdams and Ruffalo have partners, but they are never brought up. At one scene, we find Ruffalo eating and studying alone in a unfurnished house, suggesting he is living alone from his wife for the time being. He is having a whole marriage crisis because of his demanding job, yet he never gives up the hunt for answers. He never even feels weighed down by his personal life. And it creates this massive sense of respect for these heroes. I don’t feel any closer to the reporters at the heart of this story. I don’t feel I connect or understand Rachel McAdams empathetic yet determined reporter for example, but by god, do I respect each and every one of them? As this powerful story takes its toll on everyone there (there were a lot of cover-ups involved in this scandal, including the paper itself), you cannot help but admire the ethos and resilience of these people.
Final Verdict: A thoughtful and provocative piece that side-steps the main cinematic tricks and delivers a honest, portrayal of an important true story.