Release: 23rd May 2016
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
In 2001, editor Marty Baron of The Boston Globe assigns a team of journalists to investigate allegations against John Geoghan, an unfrocked priest accused of molesting more than 80 boys. Led by editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), reporters Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Matt Carroll and Sacha Pfeiffer interview victims and try to unseal sensitive documents.
There is a moment in Spotlight when Mark Ruffalo goes off on a rant. He ‘Hulks out’, if you will. It is the film’s loudest and possibly only, dramatic moment. For a production that went on to scoop the best picture and best screenplay accolades at this year’s Oscar, Spotlight is a surprisingly modest little picture. In spite of Leo consuming raw livers, Hanks taking down Commies, Damon sticking it to Mars and the all out sense assault of Mad Max and The Big Short; it was little old Spotlight which came out on top. The secret behind the film’s success is not its resonant subject matter or even its wonderful cast, no; it is the fact that Spotlight subverts everything we have come to expect from procedural drama.
All The President’s Men still remains the pinnacle of newspaper movies, and its DNA is clear in Spotlight. But where Alan Pakula’s Watergate thriller was about unravelling the mystery, Spotlight is about the cost of free press. With each interview Walter Robinson and his team conduct, they find themselves chasing phantoms; with each line of print they type, the wolves come knocking at their door. This isn’t about chasing the facts, it is about trying to prove them. The writers at Spotlight knew the truth, and so do we; what it wants to explore is the fight these journalists put up when no one wanted to hear the truth. We live in a world where news is now a means of entertainment, Spotlight shows us a world where news was once a weapon for good.
Much as Aaron Sorkin did with the likes of The West Wing and Newsroom, Spotlight’s screenwriters Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy take great care to create a dialogue that sounds authentic and brisk. At times, entire conversations take place in a seemingly foreign language. Names, dates and locations are thrown around, while we as the audience are expected to retain them. Spotlight moves at a sprint, and leaves little time for exposition. The plot is established, and our protagonists start to chase the rabbit; keep up or check out. This pace of thought is no doubt in-keeping with the feel of investigative journalism, but can be a frustrating device for first time viewing.
Aside from Ruffalo’s verbal outpouring, Spotlight functions mostly on quiet conversations, internal revelations, and the sound of sifting, typing and writing. No clandestine meetings here; the closest the Boston Globe got to a ‘Deep Throat’ was an effeminate man with a box full of evidence and a memory haunted by sexual abuse. Although this is a David and Goliath story, Spotlight makes no effort to glamorise journalism. The air-punch moments of the movie bring more negative emotions than they do happy ones, and even though the truth eventually outs, you can’t help but see this as a ripple in the ocean and not a tsunami of triumph. But that is was Spotlight does. It is a call to arms for believers in the 1st Amendment. It is a slap in the face that says, “The news used to mean something.” With the Boston Globe now a shadow of its former self, there is no greater time to inspire the journalist of tomorrow. Because if we continue down the path ahead, in ten year’s time movies about an honourable press will seem more fiction than fact.
Film Grade: B+
What the heck is this!? Apparently, taking home two of filmmaking’s most coveted awards does not necessitate some love on the special features front.
An all too diminutive round table with the original Spotlight team called Uncovering The Truth, proves frustratingly short-lived. However, it is eerie how subtly close to embodying each individual the actors got.
Meanwhile, two glorified adverts for the film come as A Look Inside and, in case you hadn’t heard the film’s message loud enough, a brief and dire look at The State of Journalism.
Special Features Grade: D+
Would it really have been so hard, in light of the film’s success, to create a 30 minutes documentary for the Blu-Ray? Or at the very least put together a director’s commentary with the original Spotlight team? Still, at least the film is good.