Directed by Tom McCarthy, US, 2015
There are two types of great movies. There are movies that push the envelope of the artform by introducing new techniques, effects, or story elements. Then there are films that take existing elements and employ them with precision to tell an important story exceedingly well. Spotlight belongs in the latter category.
In early 2002, the Boston Globe began publishing a series of stories that demonstrated how the Catholic Church covered up a shocking number of incidents of child molestation among its clergy. Spotlight is the story behind the story. It is the story of how a group of reporters uncovered a horrifying conspiracy taking place within the confines of a respected institution of American life.
Comparisons to All the President’s Men (1976) are hard to avoid, and there is one key similarity that I’d like to point out. We know the end of both stories, but that doesn’t eliminate the suspense. There is danger around every corner, and it feels like someone is lurking to silence our heroes in every shadow. After all, if the Catholic Church is so powerful that it can hide monsters within its own midst for decades, what chance do a bunch of newspaper reporters have against it?
There are two other keys to Spotlight’s success as a film. The first is that no shots are wasted. Even establishment shots tell part of the story (churches everywhere towering over poor neighborhoods). Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography is understated when it needs to be as well, letting the performances of the actors of the quality of the script tell the story without any contrived emotion. The story is emotionally charged enough without needing to make it more so after all.
That brings me to my second point, I can’t say enough good things about the acting in this film. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, and Brian d’Arcy James are fantastic. There is one monologue in particular from Ruffalo that I can’t do justice to by describing it in text.
Are there any negatives about Spotlight? It is pretty conventional in its techniques, but it uses them so effectively that it doesn’t matter. If it wins Best Picture next month I won’t be disappointed.
You might like Spotlight if: You appreciate movies that tell important stories exceedingly well.
You might not like Spotlight if: You’re looking for a movie with more technical achievements.
(c) 2016 D.G. McCabe