Spotlight is a biographical drama film from director Tom McCarthy; it follows 'Spotlight', a team of crack investigative journalists who work for the Boston Globe as they untangle a murky web of coverups concerning widespread child sex abuse cases amongst members of the Catholic church.
One of eight nominees in the category of Best Picture at the Academy Awards next month, Spotlight takes a simple premise and expands it into one of the most compelling and affecting dramas I've seen in a long while. What starts out as a fairly routine investigation into a single priest soon develops into something much more pervasive and perverse than the Spotlight team could've ever imagined.
Spotlight is an ensemble piece that works so well because the characters aren't painted as courageous knights on a crusade for justice and world peace. They're treated as grounded, everyday people who would do what anyone in their situation would do. They've discovered something truly terrible and won't stop until the corruption at its core has ceased.
Rather than going into lurid details about the crimes the accused priests committed, we're shown the lasting impact they had through quiet emotion and discussion. This isn't a film that has bombastic explosions of melodrama; in fact, I can only thing of one instance where a character raises their voice to a loud shout.
This technique has been employed not to downplay the significance of events, but to give the characters room to quietly reflect. Despite a talented cast that can no doubt scream and shout all day long, the film goes to extreme lengths to show us that these are real people who react to deep, troubling news much like you or I would; silent, speechless shock. In many ways, this is a creative decision that hits harder than any flamboyant screaming session or rash chair throw. It lets the plot really sink in and bury itself under your skin.
This point segways nicely into talking about the cast themselves; like I said, people like Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams are A-list actors who we've all seen in at least one or two things before now. Which is why it's so impressive that almost everybody in the cast completely disappears into their role. Ruffalo's pained efforts at beating the system were great whilst McAdams' eagerness and quiet sincerity went a long way. The same goes for Stanley Tucci and Liev Schreiber - after a while, you just don't see them anymore, you only see the characters. There is no weak link in the cast - they all rise to occasion.
In terms of pacing, Spotlight is airtight - there isn't an ounce of flab in this film that could be shaved off without losing something pivotal. The score from Howard Shore is the soft frosting on the already delicious cake; the sombre pianos and organs are quietly moving, the perfect accompaniment to the tone and subject matter of the film.
Spotlight also showcases substance over style with a narrative that dwells in moral uncertainty and grapples with notions of responsibility, credibility and journalistic integrity. Is exposing the Church, something so fundamental and steadfast in the lives of millions, the right thing to do? Is blowing the whistle and tearing them down going to do more bad than good? Or will their investigation fail to make a difference anyway?
When the credits begin to roll and the pre-credits text present you with the length and breadth of the fallout, you really feel the significance of the characters' choices and their actions. It's unsettling, informative and inspiring at the same time, as well as everything you want from an intelligent, adult drama.
The Verdict: 10/10
In case you hadn't already noticed, I really loved this film. From start to finish, Spotlight is an honest, compelling and emotional drama filled with fantastic acting (Ruffalo, Keaton, McAdams) and technical elements (McCarthy, Shore). Captivating without being melodramatic and shocking without being obscene, Spotlight is an unmissable examination of journalism, religion, responsibility and integrity.
Spotlight opens in cinemas across Australia on January 28th