Sat 7 May 2016
Director Tom McCarthy authored a very interesting first film in 2003 (The Station Agent) and then his career seemed to go adrift into ‘OK movies’. Now he hits gold with Spotlight which does not differ much in directing style from his other films, but just gathers a number of very favorable factors into proving that you can get a Best Film Academy Award even taking the ‘OK approach’ (in a ‘dry’ year as 2015 was).
Let me start with the positive things, and there are many of these. One first condition to hit gold at the Academy Awards is to run one of those big American stories, that play well with the concepts and heroes of the nation. Investigative journalism and people who make the news are the main theme and the heroes of the film, and on this respect ‘Spotlight’ follows a tradition that starts with ‘Citizen Kane’ and continues with films like All President’s Men and Zodiac. The story that is investigated by the ‘Boston Globe’ ‘Spotlight’ team in the movie is the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and the cover-up of the phenomenon and of its dimensions by the Church institutions but also by the town authorities, judicial system, community leaders. It’s an explosive subject which to some extent continues until today. The ‘based on real events’ factor works well here because we know that the implications and ramifications of the problem continue until today. The writers and producers of this film chose to use the real names and tried to remake the true story as close as possible to the facts, places, characters.
The other strong attribute of this film is the accurate rendition of the ‘yesterday’ atmosphere to the smallest detail. The story happens between 2000 and 2002, this was so close and yet so far from many points of view. Acting is also very precise, although the homogeneity of the team makes the characters indistinguishable from a moral stand point of view. It’s like I missed an element of hesitation, of fear of consequences – the story looks not like what it happened but like the way the heroes told the world it happened. Sure, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Liev Schreiber do all fine jobs, and I also liked how many of the supporting actors entered into their smaller parts.
I do not believe however that ‘Spotlight’ would have won the Best Film Award in another year. It lacks the sparkle that make the big movies we remember over the years. It may also be the last important movie in his genre. As printed journalism melts down and the multi-channel TV news and the Internet take over, the public relies less and less on this kind of journalism. People have easy access to much more information, they can change easily allegiance to any channel of news on TV or Internet, they need to make the choices by themselves. ‘Spotlight’ may be the cinematographic requiem for the kind of journalism it describes.