Starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian D'Arcy James, John Slattery, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup
Director of Photography: Masanobu Takayanagi
Music by Howard Shore
Edited by Tom McArdle
Written by Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy
Directed by Tom McCarthy
Rating: 9 out of 10
Spotlight is not your typical Best Picture Oscar-winner because it is not flashy or fancy, neither in its filmmaking nor its acting, but it is a really good and important movie. The performances are all great, nuanced and authentic with not one overpowering the others but simply being believable. Tom McCarthy is a director who doesn’t get enough credit for his style. There are scenes where the camera and the editing do very subtle things that are incredibly effective. The movie certainly takes its time but is never boring for a second because every scene has a purpose and adds to the overall picture and message. Some people call it “boring” or “old-fashioned”, which is not true in either case. It is a compelling piece of cinema that does exactly what it needs to do. I highly recommend it.
The film’s evident topic is sexual abuse in the Catholic church, but its subtext is also noteworthy. At several points the journalist team thinks about publishing their results, but their new editor-in-chief Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber, in a great quiet performance) insists that to really achieve something, they can’t just attack some priests but the system in place to cover up the abuses. This becomes a point of discussion throughout the movie and in turn it is a discussion of how to achieve change. From that moment on the movie became much more interesting to me because it worked on another level.
The movie shows how investigative journalism really works, how it moves from the story idea to the actual publication and all the research, discussion and doubts that happen in-between. Again, this functions as an analogy for trying to achieve change. We think of it as happening as some kind of overnight revolution but often enough change takes time and a lot of effort. What might seem to some viewers as painstakingly detailed mirrors reality well enough to show how patient you have to be to somewhere, especially if you encounter as much resistance as the reporters do here.
To me this is best symbolized by the character of Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton) who at first is not sure about the story but gets more and more interested and involved, eventually fighting for the same systemic change that Baron wants to achieve. As the leader of the group he has to keep them together, including Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) who wants to publish the story early because he is so angry at the priests, Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) who is afraid of the consequences this will have for her own family and Matt Caroll (Brian D’Arcy James) who becomes much more engaged once he realizes this is not some abstract problem but something that affects his own neighborhood. The way the story becomes personal for all of the characters is one of the strongest parts of the movie because it shows the difference between trying to “do good” for some noble cause and actually trying to change something that affects yourself and your family.
In the end, Robinson realizes two things that are essential to the process of change. First, you need to overcome your own ignorance and start seeing things that everyone doesn’t want to admit. His own admittance to his ignorance is one of the strongest moments in the last part of the movie.
The other thing is the last shot of the movie that is a callback to the very first shot. The movie starts with the back of a policeman, symbolizing how authorities look away. It ends with Robinson overlooking his team taking calls after the publication of the story and his look seems to suggest that all the hard work was worth it in the end. He sees the change in front of his eyes and there couldn’t be a more powerful moment to end the movie with.