How do I begin this review? I think a film about any form of investigation, whether by the police or by journalists, are bound to be fascinating. I have always been very interested in films that showed an investigation taking place, and I was fascinated by the concept of the film Spotlight, which told the story of the four individuals who worked together as a part of the Boston Globe’s elite investigative unit, Spotlight, to bring to light one of the most controversial and damning discoveries of recent years, one that has cast an entire religious organization into the perils of constantly being judged and mistrusted, because of some very sick individuals.
The investigation, of course, is the infamous uncovering of sexual abuse towards children, as performed by priests in the Catholic Church. It is such a controversial topic, and has been proven to be a legitimate issue that took place in the church, and even more than that, this film doesn’t just present the inhumane nature of the deranged individuals that conducted these horrendous acts, but also shows how it was covered up by senior members of the Catholic clergy, and there are implications that there was knowledge of these actions being discussed and suppressed within the Vatican itself. One of the biggest scandals of the century was bound to eventually lead to a film that showed the investigation and initial exposure of the scandal, and honestly a film like Spotlight was perfect for handling such a delicate but important topic, and now that Pope Francis has seemed to be the leader that the Catholic Church needs, and someone who can lead the faith into a more open and progressive institution, a subject like this scandal is able to be spoken about openly and without hesitation that a Catholic might feel like her or she is betraying the church and their faith for liking this film, or thinking it is an important subject to speak about and to move on from.
Tom McCarthy has for a very long time been one of my favorite independent directors, and his film The Station Agent is most certainly one of the most underrated films ever made. McCarthy has made his career as a director of interesting character-driven independent films, ranging from comedy to drama, and with films such as Win-Win, The Visitor and the aforementioned The Station Agent, McCarthy brought out fascinating stories by directing actors in great performances. To be perfectly honest, even his notable failure, the Adam Sandler comedy The Cobbler, had a warming and interesting story right at its centre. Spotlight is McCarthy’s first foray into the world of telling more mature, important stories, and it was a bizarre choice, because I didn’t ever peg McCarthy for a filmmaker who would make such a delicate film, considering how most of his other films boasted about idiosyncratic underdog stories. However, McCarthy proves that he has the talent needed to make a fascinating and compelling film about one of the most dreadful scandals to ever hit the world of religion. McCarthy has proven himself to be a truly intelligent and interesting filmmaker, and Spotlight is great because with McCarthy at the helm, the film is interesting and compelling, but unfortunately not too much more.
In the past, McCarthy’s films have had spectacular performances from great actors that bring his stories to life. However, the true star of Spotlight has to be McCarthy’s screenplay. McCarthy wrote the screenplay for Spotlight along with Josh Singer (a television writer who interestingly enough served as a writer for procedural investigative show, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit), and through a long period of laborious research and interviews, McCarthy and Singer crafted a solid and compelling screenplay that told the story brilliantly. There are many aspects of Spotlight that left me desiring more, but the screenplay was easily the best part of the film, and in many films, the actors elevate the screenplay. In Spotlight, the screenplay elevates the actors. Spotlight is definitely one of the very best (if not the best overall) screenplay of the year, and McCarthy and Singer did a fantastic job of bringing the story to life through their wonderful screenplay.
The other great part of this film was the ensemble of actors. Ensemble films are sometimes very tricky to get right, but Spotlight is able to get it on point and for it to be a compelling and interesting ensemble. However, none of the actors really stand out above the others, and it is a problematic, as so many people have different performers from Spotlight they liked the best. Unfortunately, as much as I liked everyone involved from their previous work, none of them stick out as being better than the others, which is perhaps a good argument as to why Spotlight is able to make use of an ensemble like it should be used, but I would have liked to see a bit more personality and characterization in some of these characters, and while all of the performers are undoubtedly talented, I thought they didn’t do their very best work in this film.
As everyone knows, I adore Michael Keaton. He is one actor who I will watch a film with him in it, even if it is just a brief cameo. I was over the moon when he received a comeback narrative last year with Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), and that film seems to have launched him into a career renaissance of sorts, and Spotlight is a great follow-up to his spectacular and much awarded performance in Birdman. In Spotlight, Keaton plays a relatively thankless role as Walter “Robby” Robinson, the editor and leader of the Spotlight team. Keaton does the very best with the material he is given, and he is definitely very good, but the strange part is that even being well into his sixties, Keaton is still more dynamic than any of his younger co-stars, so seeing him play the relaxed and sedate Robinson was a big surprise, and perhaps Keaton’s career from this point onwards will be that of being the older veteran, which is perhaps not a bad thing, but I still hope filmmakers realize that Keaton is still an explosive actor, and while a role in Spotlight might be great for his visibility, it doesn’t do much to show how unique of an actor he really is. Rachel McAdams is also very good, and playing Sacha Pfeiffer, McAdams brings a calm and gentle perspective to a very powerful and willing woman who wants the world to know about all the injustices that exist around us. McAdams has been receiving great roles, and only know is she starting to be seen as a serious actress, which is fantastic because she truly is a great performer (and her role as Regina George in Mean Girls is one of the most iconic performances in cinema history, and that is an undeniable fact).
Mark Ruffalo – oh boy. I like Mark Ruffalo, I really do. However, he is just bad in Spotlight. He plays Michael Rezendes, the journalist who handles his subjects like a vicious bulldog, never letting them go. I’ve seen interviews with Rezendes, and he seems like a good enough guy, who had a passion for what he did. Ruffalo’s performance, however, was just unbearably bad. He was absolutely annoying, and the way he carried himself and spoke seemed to be more of an imitation of Rezendes rather than a portrayal. Ruffalo tried so hard to play Rezendes as close to life as he possibly could, and tried to morph himself into Rezendes. What Ruffalo never realized was that he was not playing someone in the public eye, where every movement had to be perfectly calculated to appear as authentic – he was playing a journalist that many people aren’t aware of, and those who do know who Michael Rezendes are probably only know his name and his work, not his personality. Ruffalo was just unbearable, and the acclaim he has received from this performance is somewhat baffling. Perhaps others saw something in his performance that I didn’t, but for now, it is just dreadful. On the bright side, Brian D’Arcy James, a notable and brilliant Broadway star, gives the most subtle and moving performance as Matt Carroll, the optimistic but fiercely intelligent journalist. D’Arcy James did a fantastic job of playing the most unheralded of the four main characters, and perhaps the fact that he was the underdog in this story made me connect to him. Liev Schreiber and Stanley Tucci are very good in smaller roles. Overall, it is a great ensemble.
Spotlight is a good film, but not a great one. The screenplay is fantastic, but the performances are very often bland and aren’t notable. McCarthy directs this with an assured, but uninteresting, vision, and it is only the script that elevates the material. I think Spotlight is a brilliantly written procedural drama, and while it may not be the very best of the year, it is certainly a film that shows one of the most interesting investigations in recent history. A good film, with a great ensemble and a fantastic screenplay that is worth checking out if you would like a tense, thrilling procedural drama.