Spotlight (2016) Review

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Spotlight (2016)
Director: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Mark Ruffalo; Michael Keaton; Rachel McAdams; Liev Schreiber; John Slattery; Stanley Tucci.
Plot: The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

It is often said that for a drama to be truly impactful it must be relevant to the contemporary landscape of its culture and be of exceptional quality. What Tom McCarthy and company have created is just that; a tour de force of shock, horror, empathy and emotion that engages in a way that goes beyond the cinema and into the dark reaches of your thoughts before bed. Spotlight may well be the greatest of all of 2016’s Oscar nominated movies.

Based on the true story of the Boston Globe newspaper’s uncovering of a mass of child molestation in Boston’s Catholic Church, this Josh Singer (The Fifth Estate) and Tom McCarthy written movie presents the journey of four of the newspaper’s journalists, known as the ‘spotlight’ team, as they search for facts and tackle legalities in their pursuit of informing the public of the 7o-plus high ranking church members who molested local youths. It is both a moving and thought provoking destination piece that doesn’t get bogged down in personal stories (love interests, personal distress, and so on) but instead focuses entirely on the story that is being uncovered and the ways in which the Pulitzer Prize winning team come to get it out to the public. Although a dismissal of the personal with regard to any drama’s story telling would usually lead to a complete lack of connection between a movie and its audience, Singer and McCarthy have cleverly constructed a screenplay that feels so communal that you can’t help but to will on its heroes whilst knowing very little about them simply because you want the truth to be outed as much as they do; because you want the faceless villains of the piece and those who protected them to be exposed. In correspondence with this, the script is air tight with almost zero occurrences of time wasting or gap filling that I could argue should have been left on the cutting room floor, making for a tense and thrilling watch without seeming overly long courtesy of a stretched run-time that could have become exhausting given its demand on the viewer, as was the case with its Oscar nominated counterpart The Revenant.

Perhaps just as intelligently, McCarthy’s team selected an ensemble cast of top actors and recognisable faces that helped to make each of the characters feel identifiable beyond the limits of the incredibly focused script, and every one of them delivered work of the highest quality.

The Oscar nominated Mark Ruffalo was the movie’s standout performer, delivering a performance that was a transformation from many of his usual characters yet remained in the confines of believability. The most impressive aspect of his portrayal was the alteration to the rhythm of his speech as it made the usually tonal Ruffalo sound like a completely different person. This, when combined with his off beat twitches and stutters, presented a reporter who was borderline obsessed with his investigation and entirely married to his work, and was without a doubt the best supporting performance I’ve seen out of this year’s Supporting Actor nominees (including Tom Hardy whom I found to be incredibly good too).

Rachel McAdams and John Slattery both gave typically good performances without being stand-outs, while Michael Keaton was very good in his identifiable yet authoritative role as the leader of ‘spotlight’. It was, however, the work of Liev Schreiber and Stanley Tucci that truly grabbed my attention beyond that of Mark Ruffalo, as each man delivered subtly courageous performances in roles with little screen time that worked to entice and provoke an emotional attachment to the wider themes and stories of the movie that go beyond that of the uncovering of the script’s centerpiece tragedy. Tucci’s character was written in such a way that his lovable and identifiable star persona was in keeping with, and was played with the subtlety it required. What Schreiber offered as a strong-willed yet incredibly polite and quiet man was almost entirely different to those roles he has excelled in, in the past. This made for a surprising and admirable performance that helped to boost the quality of the film as an overall presentation and ultimately made his character, who could have been vilified in the script and most certainly will be vilified by portions of the audience opposed to the themes of the film, a likable and respectable character; something that helped to keep the focus of the script’s criticisms on that of the Church and its unlawful members as opposed to Schreiber’s ‘outsider’ character.

Much of the quality of the finished film has to go to its authorial director who was clearly involved in most of the major aspects of the movie. McCarthy, whose back catalog includes the critically panned ‘The Cobbler’ starring Adam Sandler, handled the severity of the true story with humility and respect both in his writing and in his presentation of the picture, and he undoubtedly got the best out of his talented cast. Even in moments of nostalgia, such as how journalists had to work with archivists instead of accessing old press clippings and reports over the internet in 2001, McCarthy was subtle enough to not present this in such a way that made you smile at how far we’ve come or long for those ‘good old days’ to be back, but instead used them only to illustrate how much more difficult the characters’ tasks were at the time. Similarly, the way he handled the movie’s timeline crossing the events of 9/11 was respectful yet remained out of the main focus of the movie and was evidence of a focused and inspired filmmaker making some of his best work.

Perhaps just as importantly, the director’s collaborators seemed to be entirely dedicated to his message and the true story they were presenting. Boston looked beautiful, the office settings looked used and creative, and the actors themselves were dressed and ‘designed’ in such a way that made each of them different to their usual selves while not overstepping the mark and taking attention away from what was being produced. Similarly, the score was somewhat subtly remarkable, issuing reminders of the evocative story rather than provoking emotion on its own. These things, and the ways they were put together by the director, made for a surefire Oscar nominee that I can only liken in its evocative nature and overall quality to The Theory of Everything from 2015’s Oscar Race.

In general terms, this film’s large and culturally significant scope of tackling Pedophilia in the Catholic Church was eye opening and obviously of incredible importance to those not yet knowledgeable about such matters, and while criticism is bound to be fired at it for its rather one sided presentation and the ways in which it comes to be a message of vilification regarding the entirety of the Catholic Church and not just the actions of those in the Boston area over the quarter century between 1975 and 2000, Spotlight must be considered the best of all of this year’s Oscar front-runners in most categories for its combination of respect, humility and passion in all sectors, with fantastic career defining performances in front of the camera and some sensational work behind the camera. Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight is impactful and moving, and certainly one of the best movies released this decade.

23/24