3 February 2016
Set in the early 2000's, Spotlight follows a team of investigative journalists working for the Boston Globe as they look into claims that a local Cardinal knew that a priest was committing child molestation and did nothing to stop it. Spurred on by the newspapers new editor, the team soon find out that the problem is much bigger than they initially suspected, and before long they are looking for hard evidence that many cases of abuse have been covered up by the Catholic Church, which has then simply reassigned abusive priests to other parishes where they can continue to abuse children.
It's one of the best "based on real life" stories I've ever seen, genuinely fascinating as it continues to develop and you learn more about the breadth of the cover-up in question. Some very cursory research I have done indicates that the story in Spotlight is accurate to the way that it happened in real life, and that makes sense - nothing feels overly dramatised or unbelievable, the entire film simply moving forwards slowly and methodically until the article being written is ready to be published. There is no big twist, no ridiculous melodrama, no romantic sub-plot - Spotlight simply tells the story as it happens, and in my opinion is all the better for it.
But Spotlight only works as a film because of how interesting that story actually is. Director Tom McCarthy is as invisible as a director has ever been, choosing to allow the story to pretty much tell itself - and I don't know if I mean that as a criticism or not. On the one hand it's a smart choice given the importance of the story and the relatively mundane way in which it was discovered, but I can also understand the argument that films should be more than just a story, and given the recent influx of movies which display a more obvious technical talent behind the camera it isn't difficult to be a little underwhelmed by the way Spotlight is presented to us. It's visually drab, tonally stale, and I can't help but wish a film with this much substance had a little more style to go along with it - although it is understandable why it doesn't given the nature of the topic that the film is dealing with.
It is worth mentioning how good the main cast of Spotlight are though, which includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery and Liev Schreiber as the journalists and editors working for the Boston Globe, all based on real people. I've heard some talk about how both Ruffalo and Keaton have been "snubbed" when it comes to Academy Awards this year, and although both are quite good (and at times very good) I would have to say that the lack of recognition of Stanley Tucci is more worthy of frustration. While Ruffalo and Keaton are both giving more obviously interesting performances (by which I mean taking on identifiable mannerisms and each having scenes in which their characters really get to display strong emotions), Tucci instead gives a very understated performance as lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, one that is focused on selling the reality of the situation and the resigned aspect of the character. I've been a fan of Tucci for some years now, and I don't think that is going to change any time soon - he simply never disappoints, and once again Spotlight proves how good he is in even the smallest of roles.
Spotlight may not be the most visually impressive or intensely thrilling film of all time (or even of those released in January), but that isn't what it is trying to be. Instead, it tells an interesting story with the use of some good performances, and although it may rely a little to heavily on the strength of that story it never loses its sense of purpose, and as such it carries us through its just over two hours long running time with ease. A great film? No, I don't think so - but a quite good one that is worth watching for the story being told and the performances within.