Movie Review: Spotlight (2015)

Posted: April 9, 2016 in Drama
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In 2001,the newly hired editor of the Boston Globe, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) tasks his Spotlight Team a group of four investigative reporters to investigate reports that priests in the Boston area are molesting children. The Spotlight editor, Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) and reporters Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian D’arcy James) start interviewing lawyers who have filed cases against the suspected clergymen, like Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) and Eric McLeish (Billy Crudup) which lead to interviews with victims, and then Garabedian drops a bombshell, that Cardinal Law (Len Carriou) knew about the abusive priests and did nothing.  Now the Spotlight team must find the exact number of priests in the Boston area who were abusers, and whether Cardinal Law knew and did nothing. The Spotlight team have until the end of 2001 to corroborate all the information, can they meet Baron’s deadline?

This movie is first and foremost, difficult to watch, because it includes many lurid details of the priest sex scandal. It tries to incorporate other elements from other movies, it tries to capture the mood of All The President’s Men, a newspaper chasing a cover-up at the highest levels of the Catholic church instead of the government.  But the difference is All The President’s Men was released in 1976, right after Watergate, so it seemed contemporaneous.  Spotlight seems dated, it was released 13 years after these stories broke, everything that needed to be said about the priest sex scandal has already been said.  And if the viewer hasn’t heard about this scandal before this movie, he needs to stop watching the Kardashians and pick up a newspaper.  The Al-Qaeda attack on New York on 9-11 2001, arguably the biggest story of the decade gets treated as a footnote in this movie, and then the reporters of The Globe are back on the sex scandal, and that doesn’t seem realistic.  The more interesting angle on the sex scandal story is how this scandal could be covered up for 26 years before people spoke up?  The movie tries to include a post-mortem on the blame, but it seems like an afterthought, where it should have been the main focus of the film. Did it deserve an Oscar for Best Film?  No. The only reason this film got any attention at all was the subject matter, as a film it wasn’t that great. The Big Short was a much better film, about an equally important scandal, but Spotlight was a chance for Hollywood to thumb its nose at the hypocrisy of those in positions of moral authority, and Hollywood never misses a chance to do that.

The acting by the lead actors is not that good.  Michael Keaton tries too hard to sound like he’s from South Boston.  Mark Ruffalo has all the emotional intensity of a wet sponge, there is one scene where he is supposed to get really angry at Keaton’s character, and as hard as he tried to show emotion I just didn’t feel it. Rachel McAdams brought nothing to her role as Sacha Pfeiffer.  This is not to say that there were not good performances in this film.  I thought Liev Schreiber brought a quiet strength to his role as Marty Baron, he was also very good at playing the outsider in a very clique-ish place like Boston,  In the same way Stanley Tucci concentrates on the character, on being ridiculed as a crank for pursuing the truth.  It’s a powerful yet understated performance.  Kudos also belong to Michael Cyril Creighton and Jimmy Leblanc who bring real heartfelt emotion to their roles as two of the victims of the abuse.  Their scenes stand out in this movie.

The direction doesn’t stand out very much in this movie.  The pacing is very slow, and every time the viewer thinks the movie is coming to a close, there’s another revelation and another lead to chase down. The problem is one of the writers is also the director, and writer Tom McCarthy writes scenes that are too long, and director Tom McCarthy doesn’t know how to cut the scenes together.  There are some location shots, including the obligatory Fenway Park shots to prove they are in Boston, but little else visual to draw interest.  McCarthy gets mixed performances from the cast, at best, and there are far too many characters coming in and out of the film.

Spotlight:  A dark film.


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