As so many of my friends and family know, I absolutely love movies. I watch at least one or two per week, and I have a habit of watching my favorites over and over. I love to quote them, google them and see their awards, become obsessed with certain directors (I’m certain I’ll always be a Christopher Nolan fan-girl). I typically try to watch all of the Academy Award nominated films before the awards are announced, but between work and play this year, it didn’t happen. So I’m finally starting to check them off my watch list.
I watched the Best Picture winner Spotlight last night. I was so pleasantly surprised at how well done it was, and how well deserving it was of winning the most coveted Oscar. Having spent some time in a professional news setting (interning at a National news source), perhaps my opinion was skewed more to be in favor of the movie. Who doesn’t love a great story about journalist who rock at their job, and uncover the decade’s most controversial story about a fundamental institution? Sign me up.
What gets viewers hooked so swiftly is the pacing of the movie. It doesn’t linger on any scene or any character, nor does it contain any unnatural monologues or quick witty banter between characters (I’m looking at you, Aaron Sorkin). The movie progresses at such a rapid yet thoughtful pace, you can’t look away.
The writing is also so superb. Each moment of dialogue is like a precious gift to viewers. Every time we hear the Spotlight team speak, the story unravels just a little bit more. Even though we already know how the story will end, we are still so captivated by it and we hang on every spoken word.
The acting, is, in a word, masterful. The cast is supremely and thoughtfully chosen. You might think with such a star studded cast, they might all be competing for the best performance in any given scene. And that’s where the film shines. Each character has their own identity, but meshes so seamlessly into the Spotlight team. There are no egos, no heroic moments, and no over dramatized scenes. Tom McCarthy’s directing skills are something to marvel at. He creates compelling scenes that are straightforward and complex simultaneously.
On the based-on-a-true-story level, the film captures the heart of the real Spotlight experience. The film comes to the sorrowful realization that it sometimes takes an outsider to see the truth, or at least the whole truth. Each reporter, and victim, and school teacher, and parent, were all accessories in some way to the atrocities, they just didn’t realize it. It took the fresh view of a new editor from Florida to take the piecemeal reporting of the events and see that together, they formed a cohesive and disturbing story.
McCarthy also reflects on accountability. Looking past the obvious fact that the Catholic Church should be held accountable, there are many other significant institutions that turned a blind eye, for fear of repercussions, for their pride, or any other number of reasons. The schools, the parents, the teachers, and most startlingly, the Boston Globe itself, are left standing out in the cold with nothing to cover them from the responsibility they carry. As Michael Keaton’s character admits that he was the one who buried the list of potentially guilty priests sent to him years ago, the audience feels his shame and regret, but also his acknowledgment of that fact, and his hope to correct his actions.
Spotlight doesn’t focus too intently on the tawdry details of the molestations. It shows the men and women who put their heads down and put in the work to uncover the whole story. They could have released a less than complete version of the story, but chose not hold off and keep digging deeper, because of their duty to the readership, to the victims, and to themselves as investigative reporters. This is another strong element of the film. They weren’t heroes. They were doing their jobs, and doing them well. Spotlight reinforces our faith in the power of media and investigation, at a time when most have all but written off mainstream media as completely biased, bought and paid for by corporations or skewed due to the political leanings of certain broadcasters. Spotlight offers us a glimmering hope that our trust may someday be restored in the critical and significant institution of conventional journalism.
Spotlight was the perfect ensemble of elements; talented cast, brilliant storytelling, careful pacing, under-dramatization, accountability, and truthfulness. I read all parts of the Spotlight series written in the Boston Globe during 2002, and while there were some omissions in the film, it was overall incredibly accurate.
Have you seen Spotlight? What did you think of the film? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!