Film Review – Spotlight (2016)


There’s something about the oddly jaunty, fibre thin piano pieces that accompany Spotlight that are slightly unsettling. They add levity to a film that at times boils the blood, and turns the stomach. But, it is this levity that makes it palatable, and that palatability allows it to calmly conveny its message – that the systemic abuse committed by the Catholic Church in Boston was alarming, awful, and unforgivable – in a manner that most resembles the true story it dramatises

Tom McCarthy and writer Josh Singer (of West Wing fame) couch this message inside a film from an angle that is anything but gauche or sensationalist. The focus is narrow: Spotlight, a team of four investigative journalists (Keaton, Rufallo, McAddams, d’Arcy James) who are given carte blanche to dig for details on topics they deem interesting and important to public knowledge. When an out of town Jewish Editor (Liev Schreiber) takes the helm of parent newspaper, Boston Globe, his first decision is to send Spotlight tugging at a thread from a legal case involve an abusive priest that soon leads them into conflict with the power of the Catholic Church and its far reaching legal machinations.

Whilst the film delves into subject matter and personal victim accounts that might be considered gaudy, it handles them with just enough nuance to prevent this film from feeling like a deliberate “worthy” stab at an Oscar. That said, it’s hard to imagine McCarthy, writer and director of the tiresome Adam Sandler vehicle The Cobbler would follow up with such a lithe and focused film about something so sensitive and important – but remarkably Spotlight is taut, kinetic, and shot with an eye for the subtlest of reactions.

Playing out in a largely ensemble fashion, the cast all sizzle with the same kind of pacey wit and verve that you’d expect from a West Wing alumni, but Mark Ruffalo steals the show as the fidgety, boisterous Mike Rezendes. The most vital moment of the film pivots on a rare outburst of raw emotion from Rezendes, a writer who has had enough of considerations of what is permissible, what is right, and it’s hard to disagree with him, or the more resigned and repentant course that his boss, and thus the film, take in the end.

Luke Shaw

Drama, History | USA, 2016 | 15| eOne UK | 29th January 2016 (UK) |Dir. Tom McCarthy | Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudrup, John Slattery,