Spotlight is an excellent and truly compelling drama…
When the Boston Globe’s new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), arrives, he’s got the odds stacked against him: he’s from out of town, he’s Jewish, he’s unmarried, he doesn’t like baseball, and he insists the paper’s investigative team, the “Spotlight”, do a piece on the Catholic Church’s cover-up of child sexual abuse scandals. Sorry, I forgot to say, it’s 2001 still, so nobody believes the Church capable of such a thing. We in the audience already know the disturbing truth, so the focus is less on the facts of the case and more on how those facts came to be brought to light. The film does a seriously excellent job depicting the banality of evil as a vast conspiracy is unearthed, bit by bit, meeting resistance along the way from mostly decent people whose main interest is their privacy, or protecting their community, or even, yes, just doing their jobs.
The team of journalists aren’t really shown in a heroic light either, but neither do they succumb to the sort of lazy writing whereby reporters become the low-tar substitute for private eyes, with all of the poor eating habits, five o’clock shadow and bourbon for breakfast that brings with it. They’re just people really, and they’re just doing their job too, not grappling with divorces or crises of faith or, if they do, it’s low-key and realistic and cliché-free. About the only complaint is that Rachel McAdams, as the only major female character, is given much less to do than the short-tempered (yet again!) Mark Ruffalo, the combative and Catholic John Slattery, or the quietly noble Brian d’Arcy James. Best of all is Michael Keaton, still on a late-career comeback high from Birdman, as the team’s head Robby Robinson. Actually he’s even better here than he was there, subtler and less self-consciously Oscar-worthy.
Also very impressive in a small rôle is the dependable Stanley Tucci as the prickly, yet good-hearted lawyer, who has the dedication to actually follow up eighty victims’ cases. That’s the other thing: we discover the team at Boston Globe had access to these damning materials five years before they started working on the story, and buried the lead. They didn’t do so through active malevolence, or through a complicity in the conspiracy, it just sort of happened. Sometimes it takes very hard work and a great deal of foresight to do the right thing, and the film is heavy on the hard work: it’s old-fashioned investigative journalism, which sometimes takes great intellect, and sometimes lots of footwork, and sometimes intimidation, and sometimes charm, and sometimes it just takes sorting through piles and piles of records. It can be an awful lot of detail to take in, but detail is what the script does best. It’s certainly more of a docudrama on how a massive exposé article comes to be than it is a study of the case, and if you’re interested in the victims or the perpetrators or anyone aside from the journalists then you’ve got the wrong film. And even if you’ve got the right film you may still find yourself thinking that it could stand to lose ten minutes or so, but still it’s a confident, solid, really intelligent drama.
Spotlight opens in UK cinemas today (29th January), will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!