Spotlight – Film Review

Director: Tom McCarthy

Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery and Liev Schrieber

Release Date: 29 Jan

Based on the real life investigation that took place in 2001, Spotlight centers on the Boston Globe newspaper, as its reporters scrutinize the previously disregarded case of child abuse in the Catholic Church. What they discover is truly horrifying.

An immediate thought that comes to mind with a film like this is how deep it will go. This is something that needs to be taken into consideration due to A) the mainstream status of the film and B) the deeply uncomfortable and nasty subject matter that the film deals with.
There’s a concern that the severity of something like child abuse will not be treated respectfully, be it understated or, worse yet, if there is an unfair ambiguity to soften the blow.

In other words, this is a film that needs to bring the stark, unbiased facts about child abuse in the Catholic Church to the front and centre. In the spotlight, if you will.

As previously stated, the movie has mainstream status. This is evidenced by its star-studded cast, most of who, at one point or another, have appeared in a major superhero blockbuster. Add to that the fact that the movie has six Oscar nominations this year, including best picture, and you have a film that isn’t going to slink by the movie theatres unnoticed.

With all this in mind, it’s good to see that Spotlight takes a very straightforward approach to its story. Not only that, but the film is also incredibly dressed down.

By dressed down, I mean the film does its best to be as procedural and punctual as possible, while still maintaining a narrative brevity and dramatic hook. Yet it keeps its dramatization to a minimum, refraining from sensationalizing any of its turning points, and simply delivering its information matter-of-factly.

Considering that this is a movie that stars Batman, The Hulk, Irene Adler, Sabretooth and Iron Man’s Dad, we never get a sense of any larger-than-life personalities being present.
There is a genuine atmosphere of every day events playing out realistically as these shocking facts are uncovered.

The cast contribute heavily to this, expertly shedding their celebrity status to lend credibility to their characters.
The stand out performance is Mark Ruffalo, who exhibits an excellently natural quirky persona with a slight shyness and marginally huddled demeanor (Oscar nomination earned!).

Ultimately, in terms of the subject matter, the film doesn’t go deep but it gives you the information. This may seem like a soft blow in terms of the material, but it does lend itself well to the casual and uninformed audience.
And with the dressed down and straight forward matter, there is little to no chaff surrounding the film.

A very good recurring theme of the movie is the question of why this scandal took so long to be investigated. The reasons for this are left ambiguous, but that is not to say the film denies us an answer either.

The only noticeable issue with the film is that it’s a little too procedural and extensive, which leaves us feeling the slightly over-long running time.
The film adopts a complete tell-don’t-show approach, consisting almost entirely of interviews and conversations of the growing investigation. This works due to the very high standards of performance in the film, and the fact that it adds to the tension and sense of secrecy.
But at the same time, this does prove a little disengaging at times and it’s something that could leave some audience members feeling just a little lost.

Otherwise, Spotlight is a very strong and exceptionally straight forward drama. Informative and engaging, it’s a story that deserves attention. It is told exceptionally well, with a stark and direct narrative, wonderfully stripped down and very natural performances.

Score: 4/5
Written by Seamus Hanly

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