SPOTLIGHT , in its dynamic 128 minutes of focus, reveals not just the glaring coverup of institutional child abuse that propels its plot, but illuminates the essential role of a free press: power to challenge Power on behalf of the powerless. Break that fragile lamp and we’re at the mercy of many shades of dark.
In 2001, a new editor at The Boston Globe nudges the papers crack ‘Spotlight’ team to follow-up on stories of Catholic priests molesting children. They uncover a mountain of guilt and deceit: personal, professional and institutional.*
Inspired by great movies of the past **, writer-director Tom McCarthy and co-scenarist Josh Singer start apace from the first scene and don’t skip a beat, maintaining the taut pace and urgency until the credits roll two hours later. Compelling drama is built-in to the story, so no extraneous showoff technique or performance falderol is required to massage or distract narrative momentum. The bare bones scenario of a half-dozen disparate investigators locking wits with a score of secondary characters, all of them desperate to validate or conceal their own individual yet interlocking agendas provides a gift waiting for a package. It’s left to the production team and players to master it or muck it up. Thanks to McCarthy’s grace and fluidity as director, Singer’s snap with dialogue and a flawlessly in-sync cast they deliver one of the tightest dramas in the journalism genre.
In harness and pulling mightily: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Jamey Sheridan, Billy Crudup, Paul Guilfoyle, Len Cariou, Richard Jenkins (voice), Neil Huff, Michael Cyril Creighton and Gary Galone. Everyone is at the top of their game.
Oscar winner for Best Picture of 2015, with another statue nicked for Screenplay, along with nominations for Director, Supporting Actor (Ruffalo), Supporting Actress (McAdams) and Film Editing. They had fierce competition from the likes of The Big Short, Brooklyn, Mad Max:Fury Road and The Martian among the crop. Produced for $20,000,000, it earned $88,000,000 from audiences patiently seeking solace and inspiration from something other than special effects and comic book heroes.
* The team was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage. As of 2014 the Church had defrocked 848 priests and disciplined 2,572. Bishops mostly were left untouched, and Cardinal Law—a little name-irony?— was moved upwards to a lofty position…in Rome.
**McCarthy & Singer credited getting some juice from Citizen Kane, All The President’s Men, The Big Carnival, The Insider, The Verdict, JFK, The Killing Fields.….
Singer: “This story isn’t about exposing the Catholic Church. We were not on some mission to rattle people’s faith. In fact, Tom came from a Catholic family. The motive was to tell the story accurately while showing the power of the newsroom – something that’s largely disappeared today. This story is important. Journalism is important, and there is a deeper message in the story.”