- RatedNC16 /GenreBiography, Drama
No one needs to actually experience investigative journalism to know that it is far from a thrilling Tintin adventure.
The seductive mystery and drama are often exaggerated and momentary. The norm is more gruelling and draining, and greatness is only achieved by a few. So why do those determined investigative journalists keep doing it?
Because in spite of, and especially because of the emotional and physical toil, producing that final published article (and one that might bring truth and justice to the world) is so darn satisfying. And that is precisely what ‘Spotlight’ is; a thoroughly satisfying experience.
Director Tom McCarthy brings us a gripping, well put together biographical drama that emerges as one of the more memorable films of 2016, and certainly of its genre. No surprises that the film has managed to scoop up six Academy Award nominations, including those for Best Picture and Best Director.
A GRIPPING INVESTIGATION
Based on true events, the film follows The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team, comprising of four top-notch investigative journalists played by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton and Brian d’Arcy James. They are assigned by their new editor (Liev Schreiber) to investigate a previously underreported case of sexual abuse of children by a Roman Catholic priest.
As the team pursues the story with growing interest, they soon discover that such cases involved a horrifying number of priests in Boston alone, leading them to question the Archdiocese and even the local legal institutions’ suspicious failure to take proper action. But in a city with a strong Catholic tradition, Spotlight faces opposition that is both social and personal.
‘Spotlight’ starts off in a slow and mildly uninteresting manner, focusing more on the arrival of Schreiber’s “outsider” character before introducing the Spotlight team to the central subject matter. This is not really a flaw, however, since the slow build-up later proves vital to adding poignancy to a key topic explored. But once the pace picks up and the juicy bits of investigation begin, the film really takes flight.
The way McCarthy allows the investigative journey to unfold and keeps his audience involved is excellent. McCarthy keeps his focus almost exclusively on the four journalists and Schreiber’s contributing editor, tying audiences to the Spotlight team every step of the way in a series of commendably depicted events that are wonderfully strung together.
We fiddle around in the dark and navigate confusing information gaps with the Spotlight team. We sit through those painful victim interviews with a lurking sense of invasive guilt and reactional horror with them. And we unexpectedly stumble upon game-changing information with them, sending us scrambling in increasingly urgent searches for increasingly important and disturbing evidence.
The almost first-hand experience is effective and exhilarating enough, but McCarthy takes it a notch further.
MEANINGFUL & POIGNANT
What makes ‘Spotlight’ so satisfying and almost powerful is its ability to make the investigation mean something, especially at a personal level for its characters and, by extension, the audience.
As the events unfold, the film effortlessly slips in brief moments and dialogue that further illustrate the context of the investigation in Boston’s strong Catholic community.
The resulting tensions and hesitations for the journalists that grow ever more poignant with the investigation are immediately relatable, even for viewers who have never stepped foot into Massachusetts.
Equally powerful is the way ‘Spotlight’ humanises its characters, taking care to portray them as flawed, emotional, hesitant and compromised by their personal beliefs and relationships. These are unmistakably captured by the talented cast, whose performances rise when their characters are at their lowest of lows.
Ruffalo, who has picked up an Oscar nomination for his performance in ‘Spotlight’, shines in channelling his character’s anger, frustration and helplessness as he gradually loses respect for the religious institution and the community.
It is precisely the film’s ability to capture this internal conflict and add a self-sacrificial element to the Spotlight team that evokes pity for, and further enhances our respect for them.
In spite of being an impressively affective exploration of a disturbing subject matter, ‘Spotlight’ is not actually a dark or disturbing film. And that is because it does not need to be one.
Instead, the film delivers the goods by giving us a brief yet effectively descriptive glimpses into the subject of investigation, and enhances that with a clearly established personal and social context.
All of this is explored in precisely the right amount needed to make the film work without being over the top. Like its journalists, ‘Spotlight’ strings the facts together and presents them with the finesse needed to make something click in its audience.
'Spotlight' opens 21 Jan 2016