SPOTLIGHT (Tom McCarthy, 2015)
A huge part of why "Spotlight" works as an entertaining procedural can be credited to Tom McCarthy's careful and emphatic direction. The victims of sexual abuse are placed front and center, without going into sensational waters. This is a film that pays a lot of attention to storytelling detail, and takes its time to develop its David vs. Goliath premise.
"Spotlight" is based on the Pulitzer-prize winning investigation of The Boston Globe Spotlight team into the widespread and systemic child sex abuse within the Boston clergy. While seemingly unfilmable, McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer focused their script on the investigation process of the Spotlight reporters, and in the process, making a film that does justice to journalism.
"Spotlight" in fact includes the common hardships faced by investigative reporters every day: insistent sources who cannot wait for publication long enough; court battles; getting case studies to open up on sensitive subjects, and; yes, fact-checking.
Child molestation is always shock material on film, but the filmmakers balanced the seriousness of the subject with light touches of humor, and by shining a light on the assortment of characters involved in the investigation, "Spotlight" highlights humanity amid a crisis of faith.
A person going in to see the film might walk out of the theater having the same crisis of faith experienced by the Spotlight reporters as they uncover more and more evidences of a Church conspiracy. This is to be expected, but among other things, "Spotlight" should make the viewer an earnest truth-seeker.
It goes without saying that evil exists and continues unchecked when good men do nothing. For the Spotlight team to go after the Catholic Church, one of the most powerful institutions in the world, takes a lot of balls, and more so, for McCarthy and company to mount a retelling based on the news reports. "Spotlight" is unapologetic in its discussion of a crime that has long been taboo, and aggressive for calling out the Catholic Church to take action on the matter.
Of course, "Spotlight" does not generalize the Catholic Church in its outing of the abuse cases- the film (and the investigation) asserts that about 6% of priests are child molesters, which means the 94% majority are fine. The film's Oscar wins for Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture is testament that the filmmakers got the storytelling right.
Also, people should be talking about how Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Brian d'Arcy James look like real-life reporters. Costume designer Wendy Chuck did a solid job making these actors look plain and unglamorous so that we'll have more time to focus on the story. Production design is also a highlight in "Spotlight," with McAdams' notepad and Keaton's messenger bag definite scene-stealers.
A compelling acting ensemble that also includes Stanley Tucci, John Slattery, Len Cariou, Billy Crudup and Liev Schreiber deliver the film's message with authenticity, while Mark Ruffalo clearly stands out as Mike Rezendes, a driven reporter whose occasional fault is his over eagerness. Ruffalo even adapts Rezendes' gait in order to fully commit to the role.
"Spotlight" is not only timely and relevant but also essential. It puts the best journalistic practices forward, and in the process, the filmmakers managed to condense a comprehensive coverage into a two-hour material without sacrificing substance. Mind you, the Spotlight coverage on the subject is not only a single article, but over a hundred. The film is about that first article that rattled the cage.