Refreshingly realistic, superbly acted, and top-notch direction, Spotlight proves to be one of the best movies of the year
There’s a scene about a quarter of the way through Spotlight when Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) speak to two of the victims of the abuse at the hand of Catholic priests. The two separate interviews are cut into one another, which amplifies their effect. And in the background — both literally and figuratively — is the Church. This scene is where Spotlight truly comes alive. There are moments like this throughout the movie. When the story seems to be slowing down, a moment like this comes along and reenergizes the movie. The greatest of which when Ruffalo delivers what is the climactic speech of the film.
Spotlight, directed by Todd McCarthy, tells the story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into the Boston Catholic Church scandal. Headed by Walter “Robby” Robinson, the Boston Globe Spotlight team work to discover the cover-up of over 90 cases of sexual abuse and molestation of children by Catholic priests.
The genius of Spotlight is that during the entire movie, the Church lies in the background. In scenes and in dialogue, the Church’s power is felt and feared. The movie wants you to feel one thing: The Church is Boston and Boston is the Church. As they even say in the movie,“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” Moments of pure tension — the ones that bring the film alive — are caused by the invisible power of the Church and the abuse’s effect on the survivors. That’s a strong word that’s used in the film: survivors.
The film treats the subject of the investigation with the utmost respect and gives it the weight that it deserves. It’s easy for a film to seem like it is exploiting its subject, especially when it is one that received as much press as this. However, unlike the inaptly named film Truth earlier this year, Spotlight feels like it’s after the truth, just as the journalists in the film.
The decision to use natural lighting, imperfect takes, and utilizing actors to their strengths enhances the truth that the film is after. It makes it all the more affecting. McCarthy leaves the more affecting and dramatic moments to characters rather than in the plot.
These journalists are paid the utmost respect by their actors. The entire ensemble — which Open Road has stressed in their campaign, the word ensemble — is at their career bests. John Slattery is perfect in his follow-up to “Mad Men” in a role that may feel similar but allows him to flex a muscle he’s been honing for the 8 years the show has been on air. And while Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo have been receiving the bulk of the acclaim of the actors on the Spotlight team, Rachel McAdams steals the… well, spotlight. Controlled and assured, her performance feels like an anchoring calm that lets the story take the forefront.
And that’s what makes Tom McCarthy’s direction so smart. Its restraint allows its subject to shine. The performances give it the time it deserves. Instead of dramatics, Spotlight feels so character driven — the most any film of this year has felt.
Spotlight tells the story that started the story. In a day where media journalism seems to never be able to get it right and decisions are driven by ratings, it’s refreshing to go back to a time where the point of journalism was to bring to report the truth. It is difficult in the first act to understand the film. Not that it is unclear, rather it feels so natural. It goes against anything that we’ve been forced to understand in film nowadays — bigger, louder, more tears, less emotion. However, Spotlight finds itself the best when the script doesn’t try, the actors don’t act, and camera just follows. Spotlight stays with you, if not for the film, at least for the truths that it uncovers.
It reminds us that we deserve the truth, it just takes someone (or someones) to uncover it.