Film review of the drama about a newspaper uncovering the sexual abuse of children at the hands of Catholic priests in Boston. Starring Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo.
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Director: Tom McCarthy. (129 mins). Anonymous Credit/First Look/Participant/Rocklin Faust. (15)
Credits & cast
Producers: Blye Pagon Faust, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin, Michael Sugar.
Writers: Howard Shore.
Camera: Masanobu Takayanagi.
Music: Howard Shore.
Sets: Stephen H. Carter.
Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Live Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian D’arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Gene Amoroso, Doug Murray, Billy Crudup, Paul Guilfoyle.
2001: The determined staff of a leading newspaper in Boston, USA are made aware that a small number of Catholic priests in the city have been sexually abusing children in their parishes. As their investigation peels away layer upon layer of evidence, they begin to reveal a massive cover-up involving not only the Church, but the law, local communities and the media itself.
Looking for the right still to accompany these reviews can take almost as long as writing the critique itself.
Is it the right size, is the quality of the still good enough, is it ‘interesting’ enough? I’m no picture editor, but I think I can spot something eye-catching.
Not so Spotlight. A film deliberately unflashy and devoid of any sexed-up cinematic style (wholly inappropriate considering the subject matter), the stills on offer feature either promo photos of the main cast or group action shots of them in discussion surrounded by piles and piles of folders bulging at the seams with documents and newspapers. Rather like Tucci who here plays a lawyer perpetually buried in a forest of paperwork.
Even the colour scheme is unobtrusive, lots of serious greys, blacks and creams. Even the Cardinal whom Schreiber meets with is dressed in solemn black.
Spotlight like all good film dramas instead rests on the strength of it’s story, theme, characters and level-headed execution.
It’s the mark of a good script that as you watch the film unfold, yours eyes are not abused by CGI or 3D, or thumping sound effects which give you brain ache. This is not a ‘busy’ film, but a lot of ground is still covered.
The film plays out like the neatest of investigations. It is perhaps too neat and too cleanly sequential, like the best CSI episode, but it is involvingly told as we are drawn into the tenacious and methodical work of investigative journalists.
As layer upon layer are peeled away, you’re interest in events increases until the most satisfying anti-climax last scene ever (this is meant in a good way; I was expecting people screaming and punching the air). This is no emotional let-down for the audience however, as it perfectly leads us into a sobering list of which dioceses around the world were involved in the abuse of children. Seeing the scale of this set out in huge letters is more impactful and there are British cities and towns listed.
The fallout from this story, as we all know, has been massive. Little characters such as mere hacks rummaging around in basements for dusty news clippings tend to be swallowed up by the main events, so the actors here, though thoroughly competent as individual performers and (especially) as an ensemble (notably, like the survivors of this abuse, they are stronger when together) seem muted.
Keaton (who is turning out some surprising and intense performances of late) can work his way around a rag having starred with Glenn Close in Ron Howard’s The Paper (1994) where he played a markedly more stressed editor.
Tucci as always is good value as a lawyer who has given everything he has, including a private life (which “gets in the way”) to seek justice for the abused children.
Ruffalo nabs the better role and he is impressive as the reporter who will leave no stone unturned to bring the guilty men to justice. It’s a quiet performance, full of nervous tics and twitches, very calm but prone to explosive outbursts.
All of the performances are understated (Schreiber more or less whisper to effect as the outsider editor who encourages the story to its fullest potential); the only actor who seems lively, perversely, is Len Cariou as the ironically named Cardinal Law.
Only in American films are lawyers and journalists this altruistic.
See the official trailer on Youtube.