2016.45: Spotlight (Rental/Amazon VOD)
Spotlight is quite a harrowing film, as it is based on the disturbingly-true investigation by staff of the Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ team into what is an initially local Catholic priest sex abuse scandal. In its gripping depiction of a newsroom unravelling a difficult and challenging story, in the face of judicial, political and Church systems intent on covering it up, the film often recalls the great thrillers of the 1970s. Indeed, it often feels like a 1970s film, and in the cinematography even looks like a 1970s film- I’m sure it was all deliberate.
The direction of Tom McCarthy is steady and not as hysterical as it might have been in less assured hands. Yes, its dramatic, but it doesn’t take that too far, even when the scale of the investigated abuse goes from one to several abusers, from that to nineteen, and from those nineteen to a shocking eighty-seven in the Boston area alone, finally spreading out worldwide as it is discovered to be rampant within the wider Church. For me, it isn’t really the abuse that is as shocking as all the covering-up, demonstrating a particularly dark side of humanity that isn’t limited just to the Church itself, and the truth of the story is still something that almost defies belief. It is commendable that the film maintains a sense of calm as it depicts the facts with some assurance, but really, this is the kind of film that can make the viewer angry just telling the facts, it doesn’t need to embellish them and thankfully it doesn’t.
It’s difficult, and ultimately unnecessary, to point to any individual performance, as the film really is an ensemble piece and is great work by all. The cast evidently appreciated the importance of the film and thankfully don’t go ‘all-Hollywood’ with any over-acting, which could have been all too easy. It’s mostly very subtle and rather low-key, and there seems to be a real connection between the cast, demonstrating a real sense of the team camaraderie that must have existed in the real Spotlight team. That said, I have the sneaking suspicion that a cast of unknowns might have been just as successful and perhaps even better than having such well-known faces from other roles/films, but maybe that’s just me. In anycase, films like this always seem to need bankable actors in order for the film to get greenlit so I guess it is a moot point.
Spotlight is a very well-crafted modern thriller and a welcome change from what might have been an overly-dramatic, overly-preachy and very manipulative film in less capable hands. Its informative, not exploitive, and I think thats the best praise I can give the film. But it is very disturbing, so don’t watch it expecting a ‘feel-good’ movie just because the Spotlight boys are successful by the end- any sense of victory is very much a bitter one.