Spotlight Review: Getting the Job Done

Director: Tom McCarthy

Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James

Please note, this review contains minor spoilers, but it’s a true story so I don’t feel too bad about spoiling some things!

The Overview

The true story of the Boston Globe investigative news team, “Spotlight”, who tirelessly worked to uncover a huge child molestation scandal in the Catholic Church.

The Good

Before I get started on this review, I just want to mention how great it is that a film like Spotlight exists, and is getting the widespread critical acclaim and awards buzz that it deserves. In a year that films like The Revenant, a grand sweeping epic of a story is also rightly getting plenty of attention, it is so wonderful to see a understated, sombre piece like Spotlight included in the same conversation. It’s certainly a testament to how good this film is; prior to seeing it I had The Revenant as a lock-in for Best Picture, but now I’m not so sure!

Spotlight is the perfect film; deeply affecting, incredibly well acted, tinged with subtle tension and excitement, uncomfortable, shocking, and truly wonderful. It is another one of those films (like Room) that feels slightly difficult to say you “enjoyed”. The subject matter is horrifying, so difficult to “enjoy” in that sense, but certainly very easy to appreciate the way it is made, and how the story is told.

Spotlight is simply a film about a group of people working really, really hard to get the job done. It is an usual way of telling a film, and one which might not appear exciting on paper, but just works. When the pieces are this well made, it is impossible for them not to fit together. It is not flashy, there’s no bells and whistles or clever camera gimmicks. It is just a solidly made, flawlessly acted piece, telling an important story, in an easy to digest manner, that keeps the victims at the forefront, and rather plays down the work of the Spotlight team. Its closing moments are perhaps the most telling. There is no back-slapping, no fists in the air, no “hooray we got them guys!” moment. The team come back into the office, and carry on with their work, and then the film is over. This really grounds the film, and allows the dramatic nature of the stories themselves to create the tension and emotion, rather than forcing a reaction that simply didn’t need to be there.

The slow unfurling of events is utterly gripping, in a way you wouldn’t expect it to be. There is one scene in particular which begins with a close-up of a telephone with an off-screen voice coming from it. The camera slowly pulls back to reveal more of the Spotlight team, and more of the setting, perfectly synchronised with the voice from the telephone audibly revealing the huge scope of the scandal, previously unknown by Spotlight. As the team are slowly begin to see the “big picture”, the visuals the audience sees reflects this also. So simple, and not something everyone would pick up on, but truly wonderful.

Films like this are the reason why the Academy needs to introduce an award for best ensemble cast. It is great that Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams have been nominated for awards, but they class Ruffalo as a lead actor and McAdams as a supporting actress. In the film, neither is more important than the other, and the four members of the Spotlight team share equal amounts of screentime. Spotlight is the cinematic embodiment of the phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, and indeed the whole ensemble cast are fantastic. Michael Keaton proves that Birdman was no fluke, and is absolutely brilliant. Special mentions as well to Liev Schreiber who plays the new Editor, Marty Baron. To play an important character in such an understated way, actually takes great boldness, and confidence as an actor, and he does this so well.

All aspects of this film are understated and subtle, and the quietly ominous score by Howard Shore perfectly fits this. It is well crafted, with the simple piano motif running all the way through the film; it is used sparingly and conveys the purpose and drive of the team in a way which perfectly suits.

The ending epilogue is shocking; particularly when the list of places that have had a similar major scandal appears. You stare in horror at the number of places and try to start adding up how many children could have been abused, and realise it is a number beyond comprehension. As already mentioned, I liked that this film didn’t end on a massive high note. As any good journalistic piece should be, it sticks to the facts and lets the story speak for itself.

The Bad

I always feel like I’m not doing things properly if I fail to find something bad in a film, but honestly, I’ve got nothing!

The Verdict

I saw this movie and you should too. I feel like almost every film I’ve seen this year has been “the best film of 2016 so far”, but Spotlight edges all the other competitors out the way and rightly takes its place at the top. It is an absolute masterclass in every sense of the word, and whilst you will not leave the cinema feeling elated, you will certainly leave in awe, having watched an incredible true story, acted to the highest standard and told in a wonderfully sombre, and engaging way.

Agree with everything I’ve said, or am I a terribly misguided idiot who has got it all wrong? Please let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to share as well.

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