REVIEW: Spotlight

February 29, 2016

Director: Tom McCarthy
Screenplay: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci
Runtime: 129 Minutes




Cleansing his pallet of last year’s reprehensible Adam Sandler vehicle The Cobbler, Tom McCarthy returns to his prior wealth of material with Spotlight – an account of The Boston Globe’s titular team and their efforts to expose the cycle of systematic child sex abuse at the hands of the City’s Roman Catholic priests. Based on true events but drawn out with a slight touch of fiction, this is a sturdy telling of a story and subject matter that is deserving of being remembered. 


Closer to the output of the likes of J.C. Chandor (Margin Call), the pertinent information and details of its sensitive subject matter are displayed as formally, naturally and in-camera as possible, juggling dense wads of terminology without hesitation at a pace that keeps the nature of conversation as thrilling as a bomb defusal and lends proceedings a real authenticity. We see the entire narrative spiral outward from inception through to the earth-shattering ramifications that it has on the rest of the world. McCarthy is a filmmaker who isn't afraid to just allow the camera to run when needed; moments of revelation unravel before the characters' eyes in still frames that expand with the scope of their knowledge in these given moments. If there is an archness to its presentation then it comes as a result of the films muted approach, and McCarthy and co.’s methods of both shooting and editing these intensely detailed discussions.


There’s no apparent false drama that falls under any 'cinematic' pretence, as it’s a story of action and progression through words and determination. Complications and plot junctures only occur because of exterior and resilient forces of change and circumstance, even though the often spoken about threat of the Church’s resistance feels a little empty in the overall scheme of things. Its sterile, measured approach maturely allows your emotional engagement to draw deeper into the story as the team delve further into their findings and become more invested in the lives of those affected. 


McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer’s screenplay is a celebration of the process of research; in all its unbiased and occasionally subjectively tainted glory (certainly an improvement on the latter’s previous efforts with 2013’s The Fifth Estate). Scenes of great tension derive from close quarters conflict, one involving Rachel McAdams’ shockingly uncomfortable revelation with a former priest will temporarily make you feel as though the world has dropped from below your feet.  Similarly, there’s a moment in the final push which might be considered it’s Oscar-baiting scene, with Mark Ruffalo threatening to tear the film away from its more reserved posture. It's in no way a deal-breaker though and comes as an incredible swing of dramatic blowback that the film has practically been gasping for.


Similar to this year’s other big awards contender, The Big ShortSpotlight demonstrates a remarkable capability of handling its own ensemble cast without any of them appearing to outshine the others. Spotlight's strength lies in the multiple hands that uphold its incredible wordplay. Its characters are all symptomatic of their heritage within the heavily Catholic Boston area - despite being estranged from the church in their later lives, they were all raised on its teachings in some form or other, and are in many ways a product of the system they are trying to bring down. It takes the word of a Jewish outsider (Liev Schreiber) with calmed motivation to truly open their eyes to the silent acceptance of the horror that has been surrounding them for so long. 


All underplayed to perfection, the work of Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and a breakout performance from stage performer Brian d’Arcy James welcomes you into the midst of this world, lead by a continually brilliant Michael Keaton and John Slattery on typically Mad Men-esque form. The supporting cast of Stanley Tucci, Jamey Sheridan and a delightfully wrongheaded Billy Crudup bring depth to their sideline characters and enablers outside of the investigation.


Spotlight’s only limitations in its standing as a motion picture lie in its somewhat televisual aestheticism, but it's a method that allows its words and characters to speak louder and most honestly in a mode where any stylistic twitches might smother them with overripe purpose. It's a slow burn of a drama that requires patience, but pays off by the end as it’s cadre of intriguing talent move onto the next phase of a journey that is to this day still unfolding in the most hideous of circumstances.


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