Restrained, informative, glazed with fantastically realised perfomances and terrifically staged, this Oscar-nominated true story is one of the best releases in recent times of its nature.
In an age where the internet, namely social media, has allowed for much unrestrained freedom of speech and more and more cases for people to be free to express how they feel regarding all different kinds of subjects, Spotlight becomes all the more damning. Tom McCarthy’s award darling takes a startling and wholly realistic insight into the silence in Boston over the well-known, not alleged, child molestation cases.
The true story follows a small group of investigative journalists at the Boston Globe who, headed by Michael Keaton’s Walter Robinson, work to uncover and publish stories that they intensely research and verify. The key word being investigative. Unlike other films in which things are uncovered and there are moments of shouty revelations and shady government officials lurking around corners, the film plays out slowly, meditatively, punctuated with moments of quiet truth and realisation.
The screenplay from director McCarthy and fellow scribe Josh Singer is tight, taut and a wonderful lesson in the power of having people just talk. The majority of the film is spent in rooms with people talking, hinting at truths, avoiding questions, delaying a straight response. What the screenplay drives home is that everyone knew, just nobody of note did anything about it. It’s also worth noting that what McCarthy does with his (and Singer’s) own screenplay in his direction is that it gives it the platform to be at the forefront. The film is framed and shot in a subdued, unshowy manner. It stands out amongst the frontrunners to take home Best Picture at the Oscars not due to it’s attention grabbing direction (Alejandro. G. Iñárritu we are looking at you) or constantly trying to simplify the complexity of the issues at hand (hello Adam McKay). Rather, McCarthy shows a masterful hand in practicing restraint. Recent films that have dealt with the uncovering of faults or lies within the system such as Michael Cuesta’s Kill The Messenger and more recently the ham-fisted Will Smith vehicle Concussion failed to recreate a sense of reality in their approach the way this does.
However, McCarthy’s decision to go down this route would have ultimately become an underwhelming, dull affair had the performances fallen flat. This film truly makes use of its ensemble cast. Mark Ruffalo, the aforemented Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Brian d’Arcy James, John Slattery and Stanley Tucci are uniformly excellent. Much like the direction, their performances are devoid of ‘look at me’ moments. There is a cohesive understanding of the gravity of the material and story that they are portraying and the respect to these people’s lives is evident.
To narrow it down to one or two performances wouldn’t do the cast’s strength justice. Keaton, hot off the heels of his Oscar nominated turn in Birdman, continues his form as the ‘player coach’ of the Spotlight team, providing gravitas and knowledge in addition to his charm. McAdams continues to prove that her typecast roles in previous romantic comedies insult her range as an actress as Sacha Pfeiffer; a reporter who has the difficulty of interviewing victims of the terrible events. All the scenes in which she is doing her job, her character radiates real compassion as well as pure professionalism. Ruffalo’s Mike Rezendes, who works alongside the always reliable Stanley Tucci, conveys pain and understanding behind his eyes and arguably gets the most cinematic moment in which he outrages at the passive nature of the actions being made by his colleagues.
The most surprising performance though, really comes from Liev Schreiber. His role as the newly arriving main editor Marty Baron is a welcome change of pace from his growling, intimidating presence in Sky Atlantic’s Ray Donovan. Like Keaton, his authoritative but gently charming presence only adds to the authenticity of the affair. Each character finds that the story they are investigating will, one way or another, manage to touch a lot closer to home than they imagine and it’s here where the film gains its compelling and powerful driving force.
In many ways, Spotlight rubs shoulders with dramatic greats such as All The Presidents Men in its message of journalistic importance despite the fact that it doesn’t maintain the cinematic grandeur of the 1976 classic and come February 28th, I wouldn’t be surprised if it took home the golden statue for Best Picture.
Spotlight (2015), directed by Tom McCarthy, is released in the UK by Entertainment One. Certificate 15.