Spotlight is a film “based on a true story”, an ongoing event which is problematic and confronting, but ultimately slow moving, without a lot of explosive action. The film derives its name, as it is centred on an area of the Boston Globe newspaper, internally named “Spotlight”, that completes long term investigations into stories that are important. This area, of four people, was a huge part of exposing the child abuse problems within the Catholic Church in 2001-2002. The film covers this team from the inception of the idea to investigate abnormalities within the Boston archdiocese (the catholic leaders), to the point where the first story is released, and the realisations of inappropriate behaviour spread the world. It looks at how difficult it was to convince a heavily catholic town, with a us against the world mentality mentality, that it was worth exposing the problems within the church, and by connection, within the town.
The Catholic Church has been embroiled and disgraced by a culture of pedophile priests who they covered up and moved around, and allowed to continue working and abusing. Obviously, there was a lot happening over many years to make this a story that was probably at some point, on the front page of every newspaper all over the world, but the point remains that uncovering systematic failures within a supposedly trustworthy system is hard to show in an exciting way. It’s all conversations, there are no real fights, there are documents, and lawyers, and old men in robes wearing crosses. Imagine in 2080, if someone made a film about the perils of global warming and the stories of the people who made the world realise it was important. It would be hard to make it ridiculously stimulating. In fact, it’s probably more suited to a documentary, where people can narrate to the camera.
But the movie succeeds in telling the story - the dialogue heavy film is helped by a quality acting cast, including Liev Shreiber (great voice), John Slattery, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams, as well as Mark Ruffulo. Through the dialogue, it displays the difficulty of investigating a negative story that get’s in the way of a general attitude of a town. There is ongoing dialogue with reporters contacts and friends that shows they want to protect the reputation of the city, and the church, which has meant so much to so many people. There is a good guys against the prevailing general attitude of cover-up story. There are no specific bad people, but the general attitude is bad. In a movie where the storyline is investigative journalism, the cinematography and camera work is never going to shine quite as much. It’s all about the dialogue, and getting that right. In Spotlight, that works, you get the awkward sense that everyone wants to protect the church, mainly because they want to protect the city, and their experiences.
The way there film progresses creates a sense of urgency, and the film displays the relentlessness required to investigate a story like this. Lots of short shots of knocking on doors, lot’s on scenes where a journalists has to be aggressive in chasing a source, lot’s of music that conveys importance. Further, the difficult moral place, where the staff are investigating something that, if uncovered, will destroy the faith a lot of their friends and loved ones have in the catholic system, is demonstrated through small snippets of each characters private life. It’s well done.
Boston is a provincial town, with an us against the world mentality, and with a very regional accent. How well a movie portrays those aspects is often an indicator of how good the movie is going to be. Think Good Will Hunting. Without the authentic Boston feel of the movie, it wouldn’t have been quite as unique or good. This holds same for Spotlight, and although I am no Boston aficionado, it seems to have captured the vibe well. With the accent, a problem many films deal with, the director allows the main characters to speak with their natural accent, with short explanations throughout. Instead of having to hear Mark Ruffolo, who is great as the main investigator Mike Rezendes, try and put on a Boston accent, he has a short conversation where he explains he is from Boston, and the guy he is talking to says “well you don’t sound it”. Move on.
The movie dealt with this is a smart way. The sub characters and small roles are all clearly played by locals, which brings the authenticity through, and everything surrounding the film feels right. The bars all have Boston paraphernalia, and the streets and scenes feel like Boston. It’s very well done, it takes you to a place, and makes you feel like you know what it was like to be there.
Spotlight will not blow you away. It’s a nicely acted film with a solid storyline, and will entertain you for a couple of hours, give you some hope, and make you appreciate the fact that journalists exists. What more do we all want?