Starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci
4 STARS (out of 5)
Oscar season is barely under a month to come and a number of big movies and names are lining up for the usual spoils – no less Leonardo DiCaprio, who has been unlucky to evade the honor of a ‘Best Actor’ Academy Award on a number of occasions; and The Revenant, the movie which looks set to make a fair splash at the ceremony on February 28th.
However, Revenant is not alone in its chase for glory – it’s up against The Martian, for one, and, for another, Spotlight – a film which has picked up momentum to become an underdog for big prizes at the Academy Awards, particular following its success at the Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, during which its main ensemble picked up the gong for Outstanding Performance by a Cast. Certainly, if there’s one element that Spotlight benefits hugely from, it’s from its impassioned roll call.
Spotlight does not make easy viewing – based upon the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team’s investigation into hushed child abuse allegations at the hands of priests under the Catholic church, this is a movie which, while it doesn’t spare on the drama nor the details, never feels the need to rely on traditional Hollywood dramatics to sell the horrific true story that it lets unfold before our eyes. Certainly, it’s a brave story to be telling even today – more so back when the Spotlight team unveiled just what was going on in certain parishes not only in Boston, but around the world – the pre-credits text providing particularly depressing reading.
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Spotlight is addictive and compulsive viewing – its main cast in Ruffalo, Keaton, McAdams et al deserve plaudits for what they offer as, for the main part, natural performances. There are no big, flashy movie tropes at use here. No elongated pauses for breath nor lengthy exposition. We are shown the initial difficulties that the team face in tracking down alleged victims of abuse, along with locking horns with a number of legal representatives and members of the church on the way through – one particular part of the story, involving Ruffalo’s Michael Rezendes chasing down a damning and crucial set of letters after a tip-off from a believably affected Stanley Tucci (as attorney Mitchell Garabedian), proves to be as intense and glorious in its execution.
A superbly uncomfortable number of scenes towards the end of the film find Keaton’s ‘Robby’ Robertson coming to terms with what to do with the evidence, building up to a sobering and unsettling meeting between the staff ahead of the report’s publication – this is the height of the drama, and while the majority of the movie is a chase that we willingly follow the team on from start to finish, a true story denotes that there will naturally be ups and downs along the way. Spotlight’s strengths are in its consistent pacing and scene blending, allowing the audience to follow the story fact after fact after fact – in this movie, at least, there is no room for filler.
Spotlight is certainly Oscar-worthy if only for its fast, compulsive retelling of a story that is, in essence, extraordinary and jaw-dropping in equal measure. At the heart of the script is an underdog tale – the team navigate their way around obstructive people, situations, and take colossal chances – some of which earn Ruffalo’s Rezendes some of the best scenes in the movie – and, on top of this, the World Trade Center attacks occur midway through the investigation, leaving the team to resign their modus operandi to cover the disaster. And yet, as the movie tells us – despite the horror and devastation caused on 9/11 – the team carried on some weeks after the disaster, moving on as their job roles demanded. The Spotlight team was composed of incredible people, incredible determination and resolve in the face of what we can undoubtedly call evil.
For all its superb direction and storytelling, Spotlight suffers only in the sense that it is not a movie that many may want to watch regularly. Its intensity and pacing make for difficult viewing – particularly for those of a more sensitive disposition – and while nothing gory nor explicit is ever shown, it is the true story told through the people on screen, and through the understated directorial touches that allows us to come away from this movie more than a little upset with the world. If there’s one thing Spotlight does teach us, however, it’s that there are good and bad in the world – and, eventually, good will out. If there’s an underlying feel-good factor anywhere to be found here, it’s that floodgates were opened – making the final scenes of the movie excruciatingly bittersweet.
All things considered, Spotlight is superb cinema. It has been named by many professional critics and organisations as one of 2015’s best, and while it has creeped out as a potential if unlikely winner of the highest accolade at the Oscars this year, it is looking more and more likely that it could topple even the biggest names on the roster.