Not often does one see a thriller without the cinematic clichés of the genre. In most Hollywood thrillers, especially those with a real-life events, dramatic elements are sensationalized with big operatic music and reaction shots. So when a movie like Spotlight comes along that punches you in the gut without any cinematic tool except powerful acting, it’s a cause for cheer.
Directed by Tom McCarthy, Spotlight chronicles the investigative journalism team from The Boston Globe who in 2001 uncovered a shocking scandal perpetrated by the Vatican. Rezendes (Ruffalo), Robby (Keaton), Pfeiffer (McAdams), Ben (Slattery), Carroll (D’Arcy) and their editor Baron (Schriber) follow the story and discover that pedophile priests operated in the Boston area and the Church let them operate without any punishment or regulation.
Child abuse scandals perpetrated by Catholic Priests have often showed up in news reports over the past decade, but the folks in the Spotlight team were ones who set the pyre alight. There’s little cinematic fat in Spotlight as McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer pretty much sprint through the narrative. As the team weaves through the case, uncovering new findings and unmasking guilty priests under the protected hands of the Church, Spotlight continues to burn with quiet intensity.
One of the many brilliant scenes include Carroll discovering that one of the 90 pedophile priests in Boston stays a few houses away from his own. He doesn’t get to see who lives there but the sight of this dark little house right next to a park in which kids play is chilling. The relentless pacing’s only problem is that we get to know very little of the Spotlight team members, where they’ve come from, what drives them forward and why they chose journalism. But there’s so much content at play it’s too much to expect anything more.
But it’s not the plot of Spotlight that shakes you up the most – it’s the performances. Even with less brilliant lines, the ensemble in the movie would have still made it an arresting watch. The kind of commitment the actors render to their roles is quite stunning. You could head over to YouTube and watch the videos of the real life Spotlight team giving interviews, and discover they look and sound exactly like the actors in the movie.
Ruffalo in particular stands out in a scene where he bursts out at a colleague who wasted an opportunity to make this scandal public years ago. It works because it doesn’t sound like a staged shouting match in a movie, but a genuine sense of shock and anger from someone who is so disturbed by the scandal. It’s as real and raw a performance can get.
This is not the kind of movie you should take your date to for fun, but it’s one that makes you question your faith in your religious institution and the morality of those attached to it. It’s heavy stuff for sure, but stuff that must definitely be seen and discussed. Alex Gibney’s 2012 documentary Mea Maxima Culpa explores the same subject in a far more powerful and intimate manner, chronicling some specific priests and the abuse victims.
So if you’ve seen that film Spotlight might seem like a lighter tread. But those who haven’t an inkling of Gibney’s film will be quite disturbed by the subject matter in McCarthy’s movie, and are invited to then watch the Gibney docu.