From directing one of the worst shitbags of the year (Look for him somewhere) to directing what looks to be the Best Picture frontrunner at this point in time. Thomas McCarthy has had a strange year, hasn’t he?
Directed by: Thomas McCarthy
Produced by: Blye Faust, Nicole Rocklin, Michael Sugar, Steve Golin
Written by: Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci
Music by: Howard Shore
Plot: Dateline: Boston, 2001. The resident newspaper, the Boston Globe, has hired a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). Baron, learning about a potential story involving a pedophilic Catholic priest, encourages the Globe‘s investigative “Spotlight” team (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James) to investigate further. What is initially believed to be some wrongdoing from one bad apple is quickly discovered to be a widespread pattern of sexual abuse by minors that was covered up by the Catholic Church.
Movies with ensemble casts are a natural occurrence this time of year, what with it being Oscar season and all, and all them veteran actors hungering for their shot at the meaningless gold dildo-esque trophy.
Sometimes, the haphazard cramming of top-class talent into one movie pays dividends.
Other times, maybe not so much.
Oscar season is also home to another type of movie: the “Movie Based on a Historical Event”.
The major pitfall with THAT type of film is that it can sometimes add up to a project with the same emotional weight as the same event’s Wikipedia article. When done correctly, it can lead to some of the greatest movies of all time. When done incorrectly, you may get something along the lines of J. Edgar, a film that made me want to dive into a pool of razor blades in order to have something resembling tangible feeling.
Which of those two categories does Spotlight fall into? Well, I wouldn’t say that it tells us anything that we didn’t already know, or that we couldn’t find out by doing the slightest bit of research. However, the sheer relentlessness of the pacing in this movie and the wonderful performances really put it over the top, making it one of the better films to come out of 2015.
Spotlight is what is known as a dialogue-driven movie. There’s no action, and very little visual wonderment to distract the viewer, so if the writing isn’t up to snuff, then god help it. Thankfully, the dialogue is super intriguing, and it helps that the editing is tight and all the performances from the enormous cast are on point. While obviously not on the level of Mad Max or Star Wars when it comes to the ability to keep me on the edge of my seat, Spotlight is at least almost comparable, and believe me, that’s not exactly faint praise.
Spotlight‘s subject matter is nothing to make light of, and I, being a ferocious opponent of child abuse, will always be quick to admit that…
…But Spotlight rightfully doesn’t pull its punches in showing the psychological toll that a scandal like this one had on everybody involves. There’s a particularly harrowing scene involving a child-molesting priest that had my jaw dropping to the floor (If you’ve seen the film, you know the scene I’m talking about), and the audience was exclaiming in shock near the end. It hit that perfect balance between trying to show a white-washed, revisionist version of the story and bombarding the audience with disturbing, potentially triggering imagery.
The talent-stuffed ensemble cast does a lot to help matters as well. Liev Schreiber plays against-type as the soft-spoken Marty Baron, and John Slattery plays what is essentially a PC version of his character from Mad Men who is also a decent person. Which is almost as awesome.
Stanley Tucci takes a break from The Hunger Games (And being hilariously parodied on The Late Show) to contribute a couple standout scenes, and Brian d’Arcy Jones (Who you may remember as Shrek in the Broadway play Shrek the Musical) is also very good in his scenes, though he unsurprisingly isn’t getting as much publicity as his co-stars, Michael Keaton, Canadian Treasure Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo.
Keaton (presumingly looking for the Oscar that he may or may not have deserved last year) and McAdams are very good as well, but Mark Ruffalo undoubtedly gives the best performances out of anybody in the movie (although there was one moment that kind of screamed “Oscar Bait” with his character, but it was executed well enough, so I’ll give it a pass).
Also, as anybody with ears and the money to irresponsibly blow on movies will tell you, you just can’t go wrong with a score from Howard Shore. You just can’t.
Spotlight is getting a lot of praise, and is generally considered to be the likely Best Picture winner at this point, unlike last year, when it was a slugfest between one of the greatest movies of all time and a boring shitfest that I hated more and every time I saw it (Twenty PKtM points to the first person who can name which movies I’m talking about). Is Spotlight an excellent movie? Oh, hell yes. Does it deserve to be the front-runner?
Overall: Poignant, well-paced and incredibly acted Spotlight earns every bit of its overwhelmingly positive reputation. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to tell Timmy the Urchin to clean up the foyer again.