Spotlight is, perhaps, the best movie I saw in 2015. Full of dynamic performances, tautly written and directed and dealing with an important subject, Spotlight delivers on almost every level on which a film goer could hope. It is something of a thriller. It is a journalistic procedural. It is a movie with a significant emotional payoff. It is a film dealing with an all too timely subject matter.
Tom McCarty, best known as a television actor, wrote and directed Spotlight and he does so with the sure hand of someone with far more experience behind the camera than he has accumulated. McCarthy doesn’t linger on scenes too long, nor does he create false drama with misdirection tactics. Instead, he trusts the strength of his script and the brilliance of his cast to carry the movie. His trust is well placed.
Detailing the efforts of The Boston Globe’s so-called “Spotlight” team of reporters to delve into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church, Spotlight illustrates the reporters’ intensive investigation into the decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston’s religious, legal, and government establishment – a cover-up we now accept as fact that may never have come to light if not for the work of this group in Boston. Sharing DNA with All the President’s Men, Spotlight makes the mundane incredibly exciting, just as the 1970’s classic did. And the performances in Spotlight might even be better than those in All the President’s Men. It is simply that good.
Michael Keaton narrowly missed out on his first Academy Award last year when he lost though he was so very good in Birdman. He will likely lead a parade of acting nominations for Spotlight, a list that is likely to include Mark Ruffalo as well. As Walter “Robby” Robinson and Mike Rezendes respectively, Keaton and Ruffalo serve as anchors to a cast that is truly remarkable. Liev Schreiber and Rachel McAdams, though given less to do than Keaton and Ruffalo, are excellent, too. And John Slattery lends gravitas to the proceedings (and a great connection to All the President’s Men) as Ben Bradlee, jr.
Keaton’s Robinson is world-wise and devoted – the kind of newspaper person that we all hope is still at work in journalism circles. More concerned with getting the story right than getting it out first, Keaton makes the audience feel the conflict in Robinson. As the unfolding scandal in the Church seems to have no limits and the Spotlight team continues to dig up information – information that places the story uncomfortably close to home for Robinson, Keaton conveys the tension and sadness within the character. It’s through his performance that I most felt the growing apprehension and dread that was surely a part of the experience of the real reporters – all practicing or lapsed Catholics – covering the story.
I love Mark Ruffalo. He makes bold choices with the roles he takes and is as comfortable in a big budget superhero spectacular as he is in smaller, independent fare. His Mike Rezendes is a tightly wound ball of energy. When we’re first introduced to him, we’re certain that all that energy is likely to go off at some point in the movie. When it does, Ruffalo delivers the goods with intensity and realism. His horror about the depth of the damage done by the Church matches the audience’s own.
It is that horror and the accompanying sadness that Spotlight is so good at pulling out of the audience. More than anger – though, surely, many (myself included) feel great anger at what some in the Church did in moving abusive priests from parish-to-parish and school-to-school – it is the horror and sadness that McCarthy’s film displays. Pivoting from questions of did they really do this to questions of how could they have really done this, Spotlight engages the audience in a journalistic thriller with incredibly high stakes. As the final crawl of the film not-so-gently reminds us, this tragedy is still unfolding and has repercussions far beyond what is dramatized here.
Spotlight is a surprisingly quiet movie for a movie that deals with so inflammatory a subject matter. It modulates its response. In scenes where we expect characters to get loud, they get very quiet (I am thinking specifically of Michael Keaton’s final confrontation with a terrific Jamey Sheridan). When we expect a rousing speech, we’re given starkly related facts (the amazing Stanley Tucci is responsible for a number of these moments). Spotlight doesn’t scream at the audience – though it could – rather it engages and invites and, finally, devastates. Powerful, gripping and timely, Spotlight might be the most important movie of the year.
SPOTLIGHT receives FIVE STARS out of a possible five.