Director: Tom McCarthy
Writers: Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer
Cinematographer: Masanobu Takayanagi
Composer: Howard Shore
Cast: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, Richard Jenkins.
Director Tom McCarthy is somewhat of an underdog. Little over a decade ago he made a small little movie that was a beautiful story of friendship called The Station Agent starring the now superstar Peter Dinklage. He followed that movie up with the excellent and brave take on race, immigration, and islamophobia, with The Visitor. McCarthy is now back with his most ambitious work yet, and it is also his best. As I watched it I immediately understood why it is being so acclaimed, and it isn’t just about the subject matter that it bravely engages with, but because it is a really fantastically constructed movie which seamlessly works its way from beginning to end.
In 2002 The Boston Globe exposed a story of corruption and coverups involving the Catholic church and its systemic and deliberate actions taken to hide the sexual abuse of thousands of children by dozens of priests over the course of the years, and this was in Massachusetts alone. While there is mention and inclusion of the stories of the actual abuse survivors, this movie is ultimately about the team of reporters working for the magazine’s spotlight section, their investigation, and how they eventually uncovered the horrifying details of the events as well as the resistance they met while working on the assignment in the conservative and religious Boston.
Making a movie about a newspaper or journalists exciting is a very hard feat to succeed at. Shattered Glass is great, but too often working at a paper or magazine is used as simply a backdrop for inane romantic comedies. Spotlight is amongst the very best because it utilizes a cast of actors that interact seamlessly with each other like a theater company, it is expertly paced, it has the right amount of indignation without becoming preachy or too biased, and it evokes a reaction from the viewer. Put all those elements together and you cannot not have a winning formula. Many are lamenting that most of the cast is not being recognized for the stellar work that was produced, leaving most of the awards recognitions at the feet of the director and the movie itself. Having now seen the film I completely understand why. It’s impossible to pick a specific performance over another, and that shows how good the cast is as a unit and why the film is so fantastic. When it’s easy to identify a great performance it’s either because all other actors pale in comparison or because the movie is itself substandard and only a single actor salvages the mediocre film from obscurity. So the recognition that this is one of the best movies of the year in spite of no single performance meriting special attention proves how expertly casted and acted is this one.
Thematically this movie could offend, but I really hope it doesn’t. Much like the religious themed documentary Deliver Us from Evil, the play Doubt, and the films Philomena or The Magdalene Sisters, Spotlight is not anti-Catholic. The movie never attacks the faith of the religion’s followers and refuses to go after doctrine or church ideology; what the movie does do is indict illegal, disgusting, and reprehensible behaviors that occur under the sinful eye and condoning of powerful institutions more preoccupied with maintaining the status quo rather than caring for those it is tasked with protecting. Any attempt to paint works like this one, or the real life journalism and criticism, as simply being anti-church is missing the point entirely and only propagating more problems. This is a call for change and attention, an opportunity to acknowledge wrongdoing and to change course, admit wrongdoing, and improve. Will the call be heard or will it fall on deaf ears?