Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams
The ‘Spotlight’ team at the Boston Globe, led by Editor Walter Robinson (Keaton) have a history of digging very deep and uncovering many big revelatory stories. When the paper’s new editor Marty Baron (Live Schreiber) asks the team to look deeper into a story about a Catholic priest that molested young boys, it leads to revelations being uncovered that will shock not just Boston, but the entire world.
A film that is about journalists doing their job never sounds particularly cinematic, but has in the history of cinema produced some exceptional films, and Spotlight thoroughly deserves to be added to that prestigious list, as well as deserving its numerous award nominations. Spotlight is of course a dialogue heavy film that contains no huge set pieces, and there is no escaping the fact it is a slightly text book ‘awards film’. It is however so well written and performed that it grips the attention of the viewer with ferocious intent right from the start and does not let go until its extremely satisfying conclusion.
How much is fact and fiction I of course do not know, but writer/ director Tom McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer have managed to put together a truly griping depiction of the true story the narrative is based on. The script in particular achieves a great balance, and how this balance is achieved to make such a plot so gripping should not be underestimated; there is of course always a lot of exposition to be said and to achieve the balance of making the exposition accessible and understandable, but not patronisingly dumbed down takes great skill, and McCarthy and Singer achieve this to make for a film that engages and grips, but never alienates nor patronises. Other than Ex Machina, Spotlight is without a doubt the standout of this year’s best original screenplay Oscar nominees.
The script also achieves a suitable balance between graphic description and respect for its subject matter; Spotlight is rated 15 because there are some graphic descriptions of sexual abuse in the screenplay, but these are essential to the plot and never presented in a way that trivialise the subject matter for the sake of entertainment.
There are many characters within the narrative, but the script wisely keeps its sole focus on the subject matter and not any kind of backstory of the individuals involved as this would not only dilute the narrative’s core story, but produce a truly bloated film that is already admittedly a little longer than it needs to be. Though for those paying attention there is the occasional one line of dialogue that gives some backstory to the lives of the narrative’s key players, but I will of course refrain from going into detail.
The performances from the all-star cast are however exceptional and do only add to the film’s emotional engagement; Mark Ruffalo is yet another example of the academy nominating a lead performance as supporting, but he is the standout as his character is the most memorable. Whether it is down to how he is directed or what he brought to the role himself will probably never be known, but he brings unique mannerisms and body language to his character that adds emotional depth and hints at a backstory. This also showcases just how much of a talented actor Ruffalo is that he wants to add these little extra touches that though small, are very effective. Likewise Rachel McAdams’ character has her own personal character arc, but it is depicted with perfect understated subtlety, and she too is excellent, as is the always excellent Stanley Tucci in a role that has little screen time, but is crucial to the narrative.
The rest of the characters, such as that of Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber and John Slattery are characters whose stoic actions drive the narrative, but have very little personal backstory (with perhaps the slight exception of Keaton’s character). However each actor is excellent, as are every other actor, including those playing abuse victims that only get a few scenes. In some films where these is cast list if big names this can dilute or even completely undermine the core themes of the narrative, but both the writers and actors skilfully make sure that does not happen. Though it is perhaps a little too long and could have done with tighter editing and does have the occasional narrative contrivance that is perhaps a little too convenient, Spotlight is engaging and gripping drama from start to finish that has the utmost respect for tis source material.
A gripping and engaging drama that thoroughly deserves its awards nominations; despite the seemingly un-cinematic premise and the fact it does feel very much like a film made to win awards, thanks to a suitably judged script and some great performances Spotlight is deeply gripping and engaging drama.