Depicting journalism on screen is a tricky task. The truth is that it is rarely clandestine meetings with mysterious sources but is more often simple, long and boring fact-checking followed by bursts of excitement when a big story comes along. It’s this that Spotlight aims to capture. The tale of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team’s investigation into the Catholic Church Abuse Scandal is lacking huge set pieces and dramatic gestures and instead features plain old journalism, but still manages to be gripping from start to finish.
A big part of that comes down to the ensemble cast. There is no real lead in this film and while the Academy chose to focus on Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, it is hard to point to the stand out performance. Ruffalo certainly gets the chance moments to shine. His character, Michael Rezendes, is a ball of nervous energy. Desperate to get to the heart of the story and is the only one to break into grandstanding speeches. However, that shouldn’t overshadow the subtle acting surrounding him. From Michael Keaton to Brian Darcy James these actors are pulling out all the stops and say more with small gestures than they could with a million words. It’s a film where even the small parts, particularly those of the survivors who tell their stories, are played to perfection. None, however, manage it quite as well as Liev Schrieber, as the Jewish basketball-hating new editor of the Globe, whose time on screen is often filled with him doing very little and yet saying a whole lot more than that.
His stance as an outsider to the rest of Boston is an integral part of this story and one that is also reflected in Stanley Tucci’s lawyer Mitchell Garabedian. As Garabedian declares, ‘if it takes a town to raise a child, it also takes a town to abuse one’ and what this film is really about is how sometimes you need someone to stand back and look at your life to really understand what’s happening. It doesn’t shy away from pointing out that the Globe, and everyone else who had even the slightest inkling of what was happening, is just as responsible for allowing these horrors to continue as the church was. It’s a subtext that nearly becomes the text and seems to sit nicely in an Oscar season when the idea of accountability has popped up in at least one other film.
And yet the truth is, for all its greatness, Spotlight is an unflashy film, almost televisual at times. Director Tom McCarthy’s fingers are there but they are light, easy to miss and the filmmaking is on the whole unremarkable. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is a horrible story, one where you respect the people that hunt it down but also one that you wish never had to be told. It points to how far humanity is willing to go to make life easy for itself and that’s just depressing. McCarthy didn’t need to make this flashy, sticking to the facts of the story makes it remarkable enough.
Spotlight is in many ways as unOscar a film as it could be. It’s subtle and feels no need to shove itself in your face. Despite this, it goes into awards season as one of the big dogs, because it tells a story that more people should know and treats it the way it needs to be treated. It may not leave you gasping in awe at its presentation, but it will stick with you and it will remind you that ignoring what is in front of your face, can be just as bad as doing the act yourself.