A classic film has the feeling of being timeless, not in terms of being vague about the year it is set but rather due to its wide accessibility. Some films have a shelf-life, sometimes due to the special effects used, or maybe the story. For example, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope is seen as a little outdated for modern audiences. So when I think of a classic, I think of film’s such as ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘All the President’s Men’; films that focus on strong and uncompromising stories and sure handed direction. While it’s perhaps too soon to add ‘Spotlight’ to that list, I would be very surprised if such an engaging, no frills investigative drama doesn’t in some way sneak into the future conversation of important and memorable films.
‘Spotlight’ is based on a true story of a team of journalists working under the same name, writing for the Boston Globe. This team is able to cover the big stories that require more than a simple follow up, and offer much more investigative journalism than a standard news article would allow. Led by Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton), the team at Spotlight are in the midst of finding a new story to cover, when a new head editor from out of town, Marty Baron (Liev Schrieber), joins and has some ideas of his own. However, when one idea requires looking into the Catholic Church in a city known for having a very heavy religious standing, all the members of not just Spotlight but the Boston Globe are thrown into the deep end to discover a cover up that will rock the entire town to its core.
Written and Directed by Todd McCarthy (recently won the Oscar for Best Picture and Original Screenplay), the first major thing one notices in this film is the lack of film sheen. This is grainy, focused and devoid of flashy edits or major aerial shots. This is a film that doesn’t just put story and character first, it demands that they are the sole focus. At first I was taken back by this almost straight to TV approach, but there is something tense about the film’s sure footed style. There is no large ‘stop the presses’ moment from ‘All The President’s Men’ to be found here, in fact the film finds tension and action from the conversations. A moment at a doorstep between a priest and Rachael McAdams highlights how good dialogue can feel like an explosion, and it’s at these moments that the film becomes more than just the style, it becomes a truely exploratory film at its best.
The cast in this film work as an ensemble, with every member of its cast getting a moment to break out. While we are shown true moments of Oscar worthiness from Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton, it’s when the film naturally holds back characters like lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) and Marty Baron that the ensemble actually highlights the importance of including every character. Perfect performances across the board make sure that the movie never feels like it drags. You start to care for each member of the team, and you want to see what they find next.
While the content of sexual misconduct within the church is undoubtedly a delicate and troubling issue to portray on screen, ‘Spotlight’ does an impeccable job of being compassionate about the situation without sacrificing the main team’s concerns about the fallout of such a damning article. We hear many first person perspectives from both sides of the issue and the film bravely doesn’t fall prey to easy theatrical conventions. There’s no smokey alleyway with a clear villain, there’s no mustache twirling Dick Dastardly, instead we have people simply doing their jobs. The only qualm I had was about a last act reveal regarding one of the team. It doesn’t change the status quo, and it goes a long way to provide that final push for information, but with the film’s confidence and its own examination of all these character’s past and present feelings, I felt a little cheated that this character held back information. These characters were emotionally raw and vulnerable, as there were no secrets throughout the film up to this point. I found this was a momentary slip up to an otherwise exceptionally told story.
Spotlight is available now at retail stores and digitally online as well. Check out the Entertainment One website for more information here.
SUMMARY: ‘Spotlight’ has received almost unanimous praise from critics since its run on the festival circuits last year, and this review will do nothing but add to that. ‘Spotlight’ is an achievement of simplicity over style, and in that way it becomes a strong piece on both the strength of good journalism, and the constant pursuit for truth. Where other investigative pieces demand to see the truth, Spotlight earns it. Unmissable.