Read Between The Lines
By Adam Sturrock
Director: Tom McCarthy
Writer: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
Cast: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian d’Arcy James, Billy Cudrup
Spotlight is a work of horror; not in the sense that it jumps out at you like some deviant would in a dark alley, or by splattering the screen with blood, but in the sense that it burrows into you and never lets go hours after its viewing; it’s tendrils scratching at your neck, leaving you trembling and enraged.
When I finished watching the film, I felt inclined to have a shower and scrub off any filth that coated itself to me.
Spotlight is the investigation & an eventual chronical of decades of abuse within the Catholic Church by the Boston Globe. While it boasts such acclaimed actors such as Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber et,c it is a fairly restrained film; partnered with a lean, precise script. The film could have been easily crippled by the egos of its cast, skewing the plot for moments that allowed for unneeded monologues to get that “Best actor award” nomination, but it is so direct, so driven to unveil the corruption that the film does away with anything that could take away from the story.
The story itself is well executed, with very few stones seemingly unturned. There are a lot of moving parts in terms of maneuvering through every step of the case and it kinds of holds your hand in case you get lost between the “who are you’s?” and the “what did they do again’s?” The eventual reveal and payload at the end makes you feel sick to the stomach – as it should – with one scene somewhere in the middle of the film between journalist Sacha Pfeiffer (McAdams) and a former priest especially churning the stomach acid a little.
But the film is not about the unflappable heroes that draw back the curtain on a major institution. The film is really a lampooning of those that were drunk on power and the sordid results that occur when two institutional pillars collaborate. In a town that is both heavily connected to its religion and its news – do they help foster a situation where the truth can be found, or does it get buried? Rather than suggest that the Boston Globe is a rival to Boston’s hearts with the Church; they are symbiotic cousins – both must exist and thus, one must never topple.
This leads to the central conflict of the film: must they affect the status quo when so much of the city is embedded in the rot? In seemingly every outdoor scene you can see a church lurking in the background, but I feel such a shot wasn’t intentional, more so that religion is such an everpresent institution within the city. Once such an important culture in the city is tarnished, what will happen to the Grandmothers that habitually attend mass and the children whose closest link to God is through the ministers that welcome them? However vile and unnerving the abuse was, it wasn’t a case of pulling out the weeds with a clean pull; no matter how delicately the Spotlight team maneuvered through the murky waters, it became apparent that they would not be able to unearth the scandal and leave the city (including them) untouched.
I think one of my only complaints is that often when the acting is restrained, it intensifies the spotlight *ahem* on those in the cast that push a little harder. In this case, I felt that Mark Ruffalo’s character stuck out quite a bit – perhaps his interpretation of his counterpart is bang on, but on screen it comes across as “actor-y.” When you can tell that the person on screen is trying a little too hard to be someone else, something feels…off. The opposite could be said of John Slattery’s character and especially, Liev Schreiber’s character because I felt that they often weren’t given enough to do other than stand around and be idle in the background.
Overall, Spotlight is a well paced biographical drama that will surely make a challenge during the awards season.