Spotlight: Review


Since the creation of the internet, investigative journalism has increasingly come closer to verge of extinction. Now that anybody in the world can pretty much read anything for free, whenever they want – something that is actually mentioned during a priest’s sermon in Spotlight – the financial implications that come along with it, have led to more of a focus on ‘churnalism’; with press releases and the like becoming somewhat of a focus in newspapers and online articles.

Spotlight, this year’s big Oscar contender from Tom McCarthy – a director whose last film was, bizarrely, the much maligned, Adam Sandler vehicle The Cobbler – feels, amongst many other things, like an endorsement of the investigative journalist. Much in the same way that Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar felt like an advertisement for NASA and the necessity for space travel, Spotlight does the same for this detective-like brand of journalism as something which, like the film itself, is important and essential.

Spotlight depicts the real-life efforts of a group of journalists working at the Boston Globe, who were responsible for uncovering an epidemic of sexual abuse carried out by a sting of Catholic priests over the last three decades. The facts of the shocking story are meticulously presented to us in a very frank way, which at times can make for purposefully uncomfortable viewing. 

Throughout, we hear the testaments of various survivors of the abuse go into detail about the grooming that they suffered, as well as the sexual acts they were asked to perform. It’s tough to watch, made more so due to the astounding and believable performances of the actors in these supporting roles, who so often get overlooked in comparison to the central cast. 

Yet, when the film closes with a staggering list of places all over the world where this abuse has been recorded, it’s easy to understand the bluntness of the dialogue used within the film. If you aren’t appalled and angry during these testimonial scenes, you certainly will be as your eyes dart around the long list which closes the film. 

Whilst Spotlight does tell an indispensable true story, it works on so many other levels too. The twists and the turns of the plot, of which there are many, are unraveled with expert prescicison and McCarthy captures the thrill of the journalistic chase unlike any other film I’ve seen since All The Presidents Men. Like the 1976 classic, the film manages to make a job which primarily consists of phone calls and conversations behind desks look exciting and enticing, which is no easy task.

Much more than a thriller however, the film’s greatest triumph is that it manages to make the story feel personal. So often is the case with biopics that so much time and effort is spent on presenting the facts, that any kind of character development or emotional investment falls at the wayside. This isn’t the case at all with Spotlight.

Set in Boston, where the majority of its inhabitants are Catholics or at least have been at some point in their lives, the film does an excellent job of portraying the affects that these crimes have not just on their victims, but within the community. At one point in the film, the shady archbishop of Boston at the time, Bernard Law, tells Liev Schreiber’s Marty Baron that the city feels like a small community, something which is put across perfectly within the film.

All of our central characters have some form of relationship with the Catholic church and some reason to be invested in the story. Rachel McAdams’ character, Sacha, has a grandmother who goes to church three times a week and worries about what her reaction to the revelations may be; Mark Ruffalo’s Mike abandoned the church when he was younger and feels the most impassioned when it comes to revealing the story; one of the characters finds out that a possible offender may be living around the corner from him, and Michael Keaton’s Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson has a far more redemptive reason for wanting to investigate the story. 

It’s writing at its very best, which isn’t simply content in presenting the facts and statistics. It explores themes of redemption and religion, asking whether those who bury their heads in the sand are equally as accountable, all the while building enough character development to keep you invested from beginning to end. 

The superb performances help a great deal in that you can watch the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams, and completely forget who they are. Liev Schreiber deserves a special mention, who puts in a turn of great subtlety, as do the aforementioned supporting actors who, in a way, have the most difficult jobs out of all of the cast.

Spotlight is a film which I struggle to find fault with. From the performances to the directing and storytelling, it is cinema at its most riveting and vital. Not only is it the first truly great film of 2016, it’s a future classic that deserves to be help up there with All The Presidents Men as one of the greatest journalism focused films ever made.

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