Spotlight – Review


Spotlight was, for as long as I can remember the big Oscar buzz film. As soon as people saw it they were saying that this was the only definite Best Picture Nomination and we would naturally assume that we wouldn’t be getting to see it until early January and the Oscar people were completely right, however their prediction that it would just be handed the Best Picture Award there and then may have been a bit presumptuous considering The Revenant seems to now be the bookies favourite to win the Oscar. Right now I am not going to be giving my opinion on which should win the Oscar or what I predict will happen because I am doing a separate Oscar pics list where I give my opinion on which of the nominees I want to win each separate category, which I will be bringing out soon, unless I’ve managed to be really active since my return from the States and managed to see Trumbo really quickly, in which case it’s probably already on the site and you can go there.

The film itself looks pretty good. We have an excellent all star cast. It’s based on recent history that’s still rather controversial and people have a lot of interesting opinions about and the film is even directed by Tom McCarthy who has earned himself an Oscar nomination. He is a very good actor after his appearances in Law and Order that I have seen and while he has been a pretty good director his last film prior to this was the awfully received ‘The Cobbler’, which he also, unfortunately, co-wrote, so whilst understandably he did manage to take the advice to work with some acclaimed directors, he did also manage to end up in a rubbish film. While the film has received many Oscar nominations and rightfully so, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Actress and Best Original Screenplay it does cover a very sensitive topic of history and peoples personal beliefs. I will say I am not intending at any point in this review to attack any ones personal beliefs and will be purely expressing my opinion on the film itself. With all that being said these are purely my opinions on the film, so readers discretion is advised.

Spotlight tells the true story of a unit of the Boston Globe newspaper that the film is named after, after uncovering the massive amounts of cover up by the Catholic Arch Diocese in priests raping children that would eventually lead to the Catholic Church being rocked to the core. The team consisting of Mike Rezendes (played by Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (played by Rachel McAdams), Matt Carroll (played by Brian d’Arcy James) and led by Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (played by Michael Keaton). That’s really all you need to know about the plot of this film. There’s not really much extra to it. The major focus of the film is on the characters getting some documents that a prosecutor has got his hands on that are not a matter of public record and the film builds up pretty well what these documents are and what they will supposedly prove. The problem with the film’s plot is that there are a few pacing issues, especially at the beginning. This is rather fixed in the second half of the film which is much better that the first half, but it stand to mention that that is a major weakness in the film’s early portion. It doesn’t, however, affect the overall enjoyment of the film too much, but don’t expect to be hugely invested until after the hour point. The first part of it is a lot of bureaucracy. Also the first half doesn’t get round the emotional turmoil that this Catholic cover-up was causing. We don’t really get a sense of it until later on in the film when events reach 2001 and the story is potentially going to be buried again after the events of 9/11. The film wisely chooses not to attack peoples personal beliefs, but attack the Catholic Church as an organisation that would allow priests that had raped children to be moved to other parishes and not charged with crimes and the sheer prolific nature of it. It also wisely chose that it is not allowing personal beliefs with Rachel McAdams character whose grandmother is a largely devout Catholic and her turmoil over printing the story on the strength of essentially destroying her grandmother’s faith. So to clarify it, if you are in any way worried that the film is anti-Catholic or anti-Christianity, don’t be, it is anti-child rape and against the organisations that would allow this to be done and not see the light of day nor any criminal charges and all in the name of people’s genuinely held sacrosanct beliefs. The film does give some very alarming statistics especially toward the end credits when the scope of the Spotlight investigation is revealed which I won’t mention to avoid spoilers, as I believe it’s something you have to experience for yourself, but believe me, it’s anger inducing by the end credits, but this is one of the few moments of the film when it is anger inducing because I do think that in order to appease the Academy, Tom McCarthy has slightly down played the subject matter. That isn’t to say he avoids the subject altogether or pushes it to one side in order to tell his own story. It’s there, but I think he could have gone one step further with it. The majority of time is spent with the reporters, and that is good because the film has the right focus, however I think they could have used more time to do something around the victims, we get very little time around them. I think the film could have been easily inter-cut with a victim character and what they were going through at the time of the investigation. I don’t think he would have had to compromise the true story aspect in order to do that. Also, I don’t know how accurate this is in terms of the true story, but I also don’t think that really matters because I think people get so caught up in how close a film based on a true story is to life, they often forget that these films are meant to entertain us and not meant to be documentaries. Mind you it’s good to call it out on occasion especially when you get a film like ‘Patch Adams’ which exploits the subject matter in order to tell its own story, however, from the brief research I can gather, the film is pretty close to how the actual events unfolded.

I would say that I don’t think this film is for everyone. I think one of the stronger points it makes is the fact that it doesn’t actually show us many of the accused priests, most of what we get is reduced down to names on a piece of paper and I think that is largely a wise move as it is rather similar to the whole idea of not revealing who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents in a Batman movie, in that instance the idea is that crime is faceless and this film gives the idea that these priests are representing a faceless ogre who is attacking peoples freedom, liberties and childhoods. There was a real danger that this film could have moments that looked like it was begging for an Oscar, a couple of them do if I am honest, a speech given by Mark Ruffalo in the middle of the film which turns up in the film’s trailer is probably one of the most obvious ones, though it does have other good points to it which I will go into later in the acting section of this review. With everything said and done, I don’t think this film feels too much like it was aiming for an Oscar, especially when you compare it with films like ‘Seven Pounds’. Overall when you weigh up all the strengths and weaknesses of this plot, I found myself really invested in it, but not until the second half which meant I couldn’t completely say I enjoyed the film’s plot overall. It’s a damn good plot, don’t get me wrong, but considering that this film was being propped up as being the film de jour which would definitely gain an Oscar nomination for Best Picture I can think of at least 4 films that are up for that category that I much prefer over this one, probably even 5 if I pushed it. But again, that’s not to say I disliked Spotlight, I preferred it to The Revenant and the previously reviewed Brooklyn but I’m not sure I enjoyed it more than any of the other nominations. The majority of the better nominations are what I would call 9 out of 10 movies, this one is really an 8 if I am honest and I don’t normally like to score films because whenever you do you tend to rope yourself into a corner when it comes time to do your best and worst of the year list. It’s an engaging plot but it takes a while to get there and at the end of the day I’m not certain it’s for everyone as I think a lot of people will have a lot of trouble getting around all the bureaucracy of the film.

As for the performances, well two of the actors are nominated for Oscars so obviously there are some half decent performances in the film. Mark Ruffalo who is up for best supporting actor is probably the best performance in the film. If he is second to anyone it would be Michael Keaton who also delivers a brilliant performance, but obviously that is to be expected from Mr Keaton at this stage, the man didn’t become an acting legend for nothing. Mark Ruffalo may be delivering an excellent performance, but again, because he isn’t having any make up or anything like in Foxcatcher; I am still having trouble getting around him being in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a bit like one of those things, I think a lot of people struggle to see Benedict Cumberbatch as anyone other than Sherlock Holmes now and I think it’s the same with Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner aka The Hulk. While a couple of his moments do feel like they are deliberately aimed at him getting an Oscar nomination, they are at least well delivered and don’t feel like some of Will Smith’s more pandering efforts to the Academy. Rachel McAdams gives another brilliant performance, but I don’t think it’s her best, but at the same time I still thought there were a couple of other performances that she could easily have been nominated for over her recent filmography, especially her role in Southpaw. That’s not to say she does a bad job and when she is given a lot of screen time she is damn good and really becomes the emotional core of the film. Brian d’Arcy James is the member of the Spotlight team that is given the least to do but when he is used it’s to good effect. His sub-plot about one of the priest living near his house is only briefly touched upon, which is a shame because I think they could have done a bit with that, but I guess they had a true story to stick to, but it does get a satisfying pay off at the end of the film. Stanley Tucci is in this film and I didn’t realise until I started making notes for this review when I was checking the IMDB page. He is virtually un-recognisable in this movie. I know Stanley Tucci is really someone to throw himself into roles and disappear into them rather similar to Sacha Baron Cohen, but damn he does a decent job in this film and is probably one of the best actors. John Slattery is given a decent role but we never get much out of him except for sparse moments but when he is on screen he reminds me a lot of Jeff Daniels performance in Steve Jobs, don’t know why, it’s just something that came into my head. Liev Schreiber finally gets a decent film to be in and boy is it weird having to review two Liev Schreiber films in a row, luckily, unlike the 5th Wave, he’s actually got decent direction this time and while out of all the main cast he is given the least to do he does deliver his lines very well and gives a rather stoic edge to him, although I do believe the trailers and advertisements for the film have over advertised his participation in the film. The rest of the cast are basically cameos or small supporting roles and you don’t really get much with them. I will say, and I am sorry to insult the man, but the actor who played the gay victim was probably one of the best performance in the film for the minority of time in this. If he ends up reading this review I am so sorry for not remembering the name of your character so I had trouble looking it up on IMDB, email us with your name and we will send you a free Axia Film Society hat. Also, by the way, in case a load of people start looking it up on IMDB and type in the name themselves, I will require a photo as well of you to prove it!. Now that I have walked us into a law suit, lets move on the cinematography and the general technical aspects of the film.

Spotlight is shot at times to be very much like a documentary, not too dissimilar to the recent Netflix documentary ‘Making a Murderer’. This is especially evident in the narration Mark Ruffalo is given as part of a conversation over the phone during a cab ride and several moments like that, but those moments are rather sparse in between and the rest of the time the film is shot like a traditional drama, it does create a bit of a whiplash, but not to the extent that it is over powering. The film is actually shot very well, the cinematography does a decent job and overall it just feels like a very well made movie. It’s not been amazing however and that is probably the reason why it didn’t receive any Oscar nominations in a lot of the technical categories. The film’s score is also worth mentioning, it’s very well put together, not just the track we heard in the trailer although those moments are few and far between. The film does get down well how cold Boston can be in the wintertime and some of the snow storm shots look particularly cold.

Is there any major negative to Spotlight? A couple that I have mentioned already, but if I had to mention one, I did think that the 9/11 sub-plot was rather unnecessary. Other than that, I thought Spotlight was a really good film. It takes a very difficult subject matter and handles it very well. I think it could have gone one step further with it, but by the end it does feel like a very good movie. To borrow a quote from Kyle Kallgren from Brows Held High, “the bravery showing the film is not the reporters breaking the story, but it’s the holding on of the story until they have all the facts straight so that they can really make a difference” and I don’t think I could sum it up better myself, hence my borrowing that quote. Its very well acted and its a decently written film. It has a couple of issues, particularly with it’s early pacing and it does feel a bit too much like it’s deliberately aiming for an Oscar, but it’s a lot better than many other films that fit that category. It’s a really good drama, however I wouldn’t recommend rushing to the cinema to see this one, you might want to wait for this one to come out on DVD. It’s just good, that’s what I would say. I’m not sure I would give it the Oscar for best picture, which I don’t suspect it will win, the bookies are predicting The Revenant at this point and they are probably right, but I wouldn’t mind if this one stole it on the day.

So what were your thoughts on Spotlight? Did my review get it right or have I missed a trick here. Please see the comments section below. I was thinking of asking what you want to see get Best Picture at the Oscars in a couple of weeks, but seeing as I am doing an Oscars pick list or have done, again, at the time of writing this review I’m not sure at what point I am going to be seeing Trumbo, so I will probably be asking people’s thoughts on their Oscar picks then, however I do have to ask a question, so, since we are coming up to the Oscars:

“What film do you think really didn’t deserve an Oscar nomination?”

Do a bit of research on the internet, I think you will be surprised at a couple of films that got Oscar nominations.

Well, that’s me back, after a short break. I think I am done with the Oscar fair and say good luck to all the nominees on the night, though I think you all know what I am rooting for!

Next week I am going to be reviewing what I love. Come back on 19 February where I will be reviewing the first of 7 comic superhero movies coming out this year on the big screen. That’s right, it’s my review of “Deadpool”.

Thanks for reading my review; I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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