The story of newspaper The Boston Globe’s investigative journalism team; Spotlight, comes from actor turned director Tom McCarthy. The Spotlight team is made up of Michael Keaton as, in his own words, “player/coach” for the team, Mark Ruffalo as Mike, (yes that does mean the Hulk and Batman are on a reporting team together) Rachel McAdams as Sacha and Brian D’Arcy James as Matt.
The process of investigative journalism does not often get put to screen. It is not a glamorous process a lot of phone calling, scouring dusty old books or records and a lot of anxiety about ‘the story’. It does not immediately lend itself to cinema. It is not one that offers a director the chance to use showy techniques. It often requires subtly showing a visual instinct and understanding of cinema such as in All The President’s Men. It is impossible to watch this film and not invoke All The President’s Men which for many years has stood as a prime example of subtle brio within a film about a somewhat mundane process. Alan J. Pakula with All The President’s Men managed to evoke low-fi surveillance quality and the reliance on light that is also shared with surveillance imagery.
This year just from the Best Picture nominations we have 70mm in The Hateful Eight, long sweeping continuous takes in The Revenant or the energy of Mad Max: Fury Road. It is easy to misinterpret director Tom McCarthy’s unassuming style, in Spotlight, as taking a directorial backseat. It is essentially shot with digital cameras in well light offices. In the newsroom settings or workspaces it is shot like a documentary which brings us into their world on the same level, It is important that the film never glorifies the journalists. That is not to say that there aren’t important directorial and visual choices.
Tom McCarthy effectively uses cross cutting to juxtapose the two major factions of this story. The sterile office of the new Globe editor is drawn into the camera conjuring up feelings of claustrophobia. Followed by flipping to the homely office of Cardinal Law which is widely shot showing a the ornate decoration and old books make warm relaxing colours play across the screen.
It works again as Robby is talking to one of the lawyers, who helped the church settle abuse cases outside of court, at a glamorous catered event by the church. He cross cuts this with Mike Rezendes meeting one of the lawyers, Mitchell Garabedian, who represented victims of abuse at the hands of the church, cooped up in a booth in a bar.
Scrolling through pages and pages of books upon books merely looking at priest designations, is shown to be arduous by McCarthy’s close up of the rulers combing through the pages. This is the introduction to an excellent montage that shows the spotlight team living with these books to find priests designated on sick leave or unassigned. A common practice for journalists.
The Boston Globe doesn’t get off completely scot-free; throughout the film many of the details they try to uncover had been sent to them years before. It is thanks to Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron the new editor that a focus is put on this scandal. Liev Schreiber is the best performance in film as the no nonsense editor who will inoffensively speak matter of factly to colleagues and culprits alike.
Sacha meets a victim, Joe Crowley, played by Michael Cyril Creighton and has to press him for specific details of his molestation. This is a testament to the understanding of journalism this film has. Not only is she covering her back legally; but she wants a quote that will be emotive and impactful.
She is also in one of the most uncomfortable scenes of the movie that will not be spoiled in this review. You will know which scene it is by the anxious shifting of your bottom in your seat as the insidious nature of abusing a position built on not only trust but faith is shown.
The cast truly step up to the direction; Stanley Tucci is excellent as self proclaimed outsider to the insular Boston; Garabedian who utters the films immortal lines; “if it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a village to abuse one.” In a scene with Mark Ruffalo who is humble yet uncompromising in his performance.
Verdict: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ A testament to subtle direction and ensemble acting, that also tells an important and horrifying true story.