“This city, these people… making the rest of us feel like we don’t belong. But they’re no better than us. Look at how they treat their children. Mark my words, Mr. Rezendes. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”
With this year’s Oscars steadily approaching, I found it fitting to discuss last year’s Best Picture winner (and the film that I was rooting for), Spotlight. I’ve seen it a few times now, mainly because there’s so much in this movie which keeps me coming back. It’s not some technical feat with an Academy-appealing story like Birdman was. I feel that Spotlight pulled its success from a firm commitment to the basics, the too-often overlooked approach which typically amounts to a terrific work of film. With a dynamite ensemble cast and a smooth direction by Tom McCarthy, Spotlight takes a familiar genre and hits every note just perfectly.
The film takes place in 2001, following the true story of the Spotlight team: a small group of journalists at the Boston Globe who specialized in long-term, deeply investigative stories. When a new editor named Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) takes control of the paper, he urges the Spotlight team to investigate the sexual abuse allegations against priests of the Catholic Church. The team soon uncovers far more cases than they could have imagined, finding that the Church has used its influence in Boston to cover up these incidents and silence its victims. With strong journalistic work from start to finish, the Spotlight team manages to publish countless vital stories and bring the injustice into the public eye.
I’m always impressed by how carefully and respectfully the film tells its story. You never see any actual scenes of sexual abuse that a lesser film might use to draw a response from its audience. The journalists are also portrayed as real human beings, down-to-earth servants of the public who are tremendously good at their jobs. There’s the fighting spirit to uncover the truth that you’d find in any film of the reporter genre, but Spotlight leads the pack in terms of honesty. You have a director who trusts both his screenplay and his actors, putting forward a humble narrative of courageous journalism, and it feels all the more inspiring because of this presentation. There aren’t any cheap cinematic tricks that try to boost the film’s greatness, either; it’s focused primarily on its story, which comes through powerfully.
The entire Spotlight team is well acted by a dynamic cast of performers. I find that Rachel McAdams come across the most believably. You see strong character work from her performance, capturing the ticks and quirks of a savvy journalist with precise accuracy. Just about every actor finds their moment to shine, however, with Mark Ruffalo being no exception. His roaring speech about uncovering the truth and bringing down injustice is a powerful scene that’s always worth revisiting. Michael Keaton brings an engaging performance as always, and Liev Schreiber gives an incredibly nuanced portrayal as Marty Baron. While soft-spoken, he brings an intelligent, powerful presence which always enhances a scene. It’s a well rounded collection of actors, and none of them seem to drag the pace or the quality of the film.
Spotlight is an important work of cinema, not simply for its cinematic merit but for the story it puts forward, a story that deserved (and thankfully received) a respectful treatment on-screen. You can always cozy up to films like Spotlight when the injustice of the world seems too much to bare; it’s these sort of movies which spark hope and inspiration in all of us. I’m beyond delighted that the Academy gave it the highest of honors, if only to show that gimmicks only go so far, and nothing beats by-the-book filmmaking with a powerful central theme. I won’t say it’s my favorite film of 2015, but it’s certainly among the finest, and I hope that its legacy continues to live on.
Films Left to Watch: 893