Director Tom McCarthy tells an important story truthfully and insightfully in this quiet but affecting drama.
Spotlight, Tom McCarthy’s account of the 2002 Boston Globe investigation into Catholic clerical child abuse, is a showcase in avoiding sensationalism. So matter-of-fact and classically unimaginative is McCarthy’s film, it borders numerous times on becoming too flat to bear, but the constantly shocking unfolding of the tragic story is gripping, and the ensemble cast keep the proceedings entertainingly, but not opportunistically, lively.
What is depicted in Spotlight is journalism as it truly is. None of the sexiness or energy of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom or James Vanderbilt’s Truth is visible here, but rather an honest reenactment of the integral work of the brilliant reporters who brought a horrific crime ring to the public’s attention and, in the process, threatened to bring the Catholic establishment to its knees. The script is polished but doesn’t grab attention with its quality- there is little room for jokes or witty references in this film- and the cast work on a level of equal subtlety. Mark Ruffalo could be accused of merely “doing his usual shtick”, but Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams do excellent work in uncharacteristically soft roles. The film’s on-screen standout is Liev Schreiber, who takes what could have been nothing more than a Plot Device role and created a uniquely warm and sympathetic figure amidst the nastiness of what is being uncovered.
As it prepares to compete with films like The Revenant and Max Max: Fury Road at the Oscars, what Spotlight visibly lacks is a sense of cinematic merit. Visually, it could easily be mistaken for a documentary, while Howard Shore’s weak score is- when noticeable- a moderate nuisance. This is a story that deserves to be told on a cinema screen, but McCarthy’s work resembles more closely a solid HBO miniseries (for example, Paul Haggis’ Show Me A Hero).
In its exploration of the subject matter, the film is admirably sensitive, not once opting for crassness or vulgarity when simple truth will suffice. McCarthy is showing us journalists in the role typically occupied on film by detectives, with suave trench coats and rhythmic dialogue. Spotlight has zero interest in being cool, sexy or a particularly original piece of cinema. What is aims to do, and succeeds unconditionally in, is to tell an important story truthfully and accessibly. In this gang of enthusiastic Boston Globe writers, Tom McCarthy has shown us some new, untraditional American heroes.