Review: Spotlight (2015)

spotlight-movie

Spotlight (2015): Participant Media/First Look Media/Anonymous Content

For many, SPOTLIGHT was the surprise winner at last year’s Oscars. The true events the film is based on might be ripe for dramatic adaptation, but with its low-key performance and style, and actors that did not subject themselves to physical extremes, it was still a dark horse. And yet it was by quite a way the most deserving, the only, winner.

In 2002, journalists from the Boston Globe’s daring and prestigious Spotlight team broke one of the most earth-shattering and shocking stories to ever be printed. This is the story of a decades-old coverup and the efforts by a group of brave and unrelenting reporters to expose the truth of just how much the Catholic Church and their army of lawyers were hiding. 

The screenplay of Spotlight (by director Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer) isn’t showy, with people talking how real people talk aside from byline-worthy proclamations such as warning that “The Church thinks in terms of Centuries”, a story about “a bunch of lawyers turning child abuse into a cottage industry”. Most people, even those who write for a living, aren’t eloquent and reversed in their day-to-day. They make mistakes, act overly on emotion and even journalist I’ll wager struggle to remain impartial.

“How do you say no to God?” What a question. It makes the atrocities committed by the modern Catholic Church all the more inexcusable when you realise that those whose faith is an integral part of who they are had very little power to fight back against abuses of power. Sometimes all you really need is a good story. The best journalists know this well. With the story that Spotlight uncovered, you have scandal, you have human interest, horror, and a race against time. The victims’ grief and state of being isn’t in the least sensationalised, but dealt with sensitively and as a fact of life.

The film doesn’t glamorise or exaggerate the profession of journalism. Tempting as it might be to turn this into a thriller, it remains a slow exposé. It’s two hours of watching people gathering research, doing shorthand and resisting the temptation to break a big story before they have all the facts. Arduous as this sounds, it’s riveting stuff brought to life by a terrific cast, chiefly Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James. I never thought trying to convince lawyers to release key sealed files in a time frame could be so tense.

While I am completely against the publication of names of perpetrators until there is a reason to do so (the number of celebrities and normal people wrongly accused among those rightly convicted in the past few years is testament to this) the film does get across the need for stories to break in order to give more victims courage to come forward. The blame is clearly mostly at the Catholic Church’s feet, but lawyers and journalists also come under fire; the former for serving evil when it suits them and the latter for not acting quickly enough. It’s a low-key film throughout and there’s no real late-game twists, but there is a revelation that certainly changes your perspective of the situation.

Of the Best Picture nominees last year, none other than Spotlight should have won. THE REVENANT dazzled on a technical level, ROOM hit me right in the soul and THE BIG SHORT was really smart and really knew it (I just realise now I never reviewed it. Short version: glossy, rapid-fire and with amusing cameo-led vignettes to explain financial complexities. I still don’t understand financial complexities). Spotlight tells the story that needed to be told and does it with dignity. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Sam Mendes, Guillermo del Toro, Bong Joon-ho, Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Spike Jonze, Rian Johnson and the Coen Brothers. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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