Spotlight – Review

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Starring: Liev Schrieber, Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci
Written for the screen by: Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy
Directed by: Tom McCarthy
IMDb Score: 8.1 (#179 out of the Top 250 Movies of All Time)
Metacritic Score: 93
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%
W
inner of 2 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Nominated for 6 Academy Awards including Best Supporting Actor (Ruffalo), Best Supporting Actress (McAdams), Best Direction (McCarthy) and Best Editing.

Rated R for some language including sexual references.

There are different types of films that discuss journalism, whether it be print, broadcast or otherwise.

Many of them involve one character (Nightcrawler), some are incidentally journalism stories in lieu of a bigger story (Almost Famous) and others are just purely about journalism.

Network, Broadcast News, Shattered Glass, Good Night, and Good Luck…these movies are purely about journalism and what they go through to tell compelling and important stories.

The best of them, in my opinion, is All The President’s Men, though Spotlight‘s surprising Oscar win for Best Picture could have this movie in the conversation.

The Boston Globe’s Spotlight division, a group of journalists who delve deep into certain stories, unravel a conspiracy in Boston involving the Catholic Church and it’s long-seeded problem of child molestation charges.

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Let me go into a personal story before I start the review. From the age of 8, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’d tell stories on my old DOS computer largely about Marvel characters using only the Marvel Trading Cards I amassed when I was younger.

It took me to age 13 and seeing Fargo for the first time that I realized I wanted to be a film critic. I never realized I loved film so much until I watched the Coen Bros. classic film: a film I’ve watched over a dozen times now.

What started this desire to be a critic is a disagreement with my parents, who watched the film with me. They hated the film; I loved it. And so started a conversation why I loved the film, which at the time was due to how beautiful it was with so little colors and how the film just felt different. My parents hated those aspects and thought it was the worst movie they have ever seen.

This movie would be the impetus of when I’d recommend a movie they would have no interest in seeing they would quip, “Well, you did like Fargo…”

This wanting to be a film critic kept going even in high school. Wanting to see my reviews in print, I was told that being in the school paper would be a great place to start. Also, at the time, the only way to be a film critic is to be a journalist.

So, throughout high school and college, I would try to be a journalist with my focus on film criticism.

Now, being a journalist didn’t work. I recognize now that I had a long dormant problem with agoraphobia that has creeped itself in my life as a full blown problem now, but at the time, I just had an uneasy, awkward and horrible feeling going to places I didn’t know and talking to people I didn’t connect with previously.

But what I loved about trying to be a journalist was gathering information. Going through old newspapers, encyclopedias, public records, etc. Absolutely loved gathering information. Even after I stopped pursuing journalism as a profession, my love for getting as much information about anything as possible couldn’t be sated.

Hell, it’s even helped me get out of a few tough spots.

So, why am I mentioning all of this in a review of Spotlight?

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Spotlight instantly reminded me of why I wanted to be a journalist: the responsibility, the gathering of info, the art of telling a story through procedure. In fact, it is that procedure of gathering info, checking sources, etc. that makes the profession so rewarding, the actual writing of the article is just a nice byproduct.

Spotlight, much like films like Almost Famous and All the President’s Men, shows the story of how a kernel of an idea becomes a full blown story and it’s entertaining and enthralling just by showing it’s procedure and showing their characters as real journalists.

The movie isn’t the first movie to do this, nor do I think it is the best (as of right now), but that is superfluous to the quality of the film itself. Spotlight takes one of the most emotionally devastating stories, the widespread problem of child molestation with priests, and treats it like a serious subject, while showing the subject in a leveled manner.

The film is completely procedural by design, which some might find a bit disconcerting. Frank talk about molestation and the effects it has on priests and victims is talked very matter-of-fact: the movie doesn’t give a dramatic tinge or an overriding uneasiness.

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This is very deliberate because of who the story is focusing on: the journalists. It gives the film a feel of a The Wire’s last season or Absence of Malice that gives the movie its astute poise. 

This feeling will probably feel odd to people who watch the film, making it feel that the seriousness of the allegations are portrayed less severe. It does, however, treat the subject with a feel of brevity in a few key scenes that are perfectly timed and well edited to keep the movie engaging. 

Except for one scene: The Mark Ruffalo outburst scene. This scene feels forced and contrived: it doesn’t belong in the film at all. The feeling from the film too is that the filmmakers agree: the following scene treats it like an also-ran or a farce better left unspoken.

Mark Ruffalo also doesn’t really do much for the film, but he doesn’t hurt it either. In fact, the best performance of the movie goes to Rachel McAdams, an actress that has now proven twice (the other being the only good thing about True Detective Season Two) that she can inhabit and really sink into a role.

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Spotlight is one of the best written films to be made, along side films like All The President’s Men, Chinatown, Pulp Fiction and Chasing Amy. The film does an amazing job keeping the film grounded with such a subject so severe while treating it seriously.

It would have been easy to go to melodramatics or to temper the severity of the allegations, but the screenplay (and the direction) keeps the film in a great clip while keeping the movie procedurally conventional, which in this film is a plus.

With the exception of one scene, the film is a masterpiece of excellent writing and tempered pace. While just being about fact-finding, phone calls and investigations, Spotlight makes those findings into palpable dramatic poise.

It is, without a doubt, a fantastic movie.

The Wiz Says #60

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