As Oscar inches ever-closer Spotlight, like its title suggests, seems to be ever creeping into the, well, spotlight as a hot contender. And rightfully so because Spotlight is wonderfully old school, it’s a throwback to the kind of dramas that defined the golden days of 1970s cinema. The kind of cinema that thrived on telling intricate, character driven stories all essentially around a bunch of people talking in rooms.
Based on the true story of the Boston Globe’s exposure of child abuse in the Catholic Church, Spotlight sees a crack team of investigative journalists determined to show the world what the Church is so desperate to hide. When a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) takes over at the paper he immediately assigns the Spotlight team, led by Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton) to look into corruption in the church. Aided by the crusading Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), the sympathetic Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and the paternal Matt Carroll (Brian D’Arcy James) the team soon realise that the corruption they are uncovering runs deeper and wider than they could have possibly feared.
Spotlight is an elegant slow-burn thriller. It’s akin to setting a pan on a low heat and enjoying the riveting moments from the first bubbles appearing to the heat overpowering everything and spilling the water everywhere. It is a detailed tapestry of a story, a tapestry in which every thread leads somewhere. By the time director Tom McCarthy finally pulls back to reveal the full picture you’re left gasping at the horrific realities of what really went on.
McCarthy isn’t interested in dazzling you with flashy camera tricks; instead he submerges us in Boston. The city is just as much a character as those doing the talking, because McCarthy is anxious to highlight the importance of the Church in this town. The very presence of both the personal and the institution itself is clear on every street corner but what McCarthy illustrates so well is the manner in which the Church is revered by so many as an unimpeachable part of society. There is a wonderful sense of two worlds colliding: the press versus the Church. One is encouraged to uncover the truth, a trial by public exposure, while the other is seemingly so powerful as to have all trembling in fear of it.
The story unfolds utilising one of the best ensemble casts in recent memory. Keaton continues his current run after Birdman as the authoritative, often cool and ferocious leader. Stanley Tucci turns in a brilliant, scruffy looking performance as a lawyer deeply entrenched in the case while D’Arcy James is often sidelined but has a solid subplot that taps subtly into the realities of the dark secrets on every street corner. McAdams meanwhile is the sympathetic ear of the story, her Sacha desperate to do the victims justice while struggling with her Catholic upbringing. But it is Mark Ruffalo who makes Spotlight shine. He brings levels of detail to Mike that makes you forget Ruffalo is even there. Between constant ticks, speaking out of the side of his mouth and his hunched body-language he is tenacious in his approach, desperate to nail the perpetrators to the cross.
Burning bright with a rich character driven story Spotlight is compelling and essential viewing.