Spotlight is all about the performances and the story. Tom McCarthy’s film isn’t bothered about strong visuals or flashy theatrics. He directs this like a reporter would (or should) write a news story, reporting the facts as they happened.
McCarthy’s film is based on a true story that saw a team of Boston Globe journalists (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James and John Slattery) investigate child sex abuse within the Catholic Church. The abuse was covered up for decades and only came to the fore when a new editor (Liev Schreiber) took charge of the paper and decided to look into the local rumblings with fresh eyes. It seemed everyone in Boston had heard the rumours but chose not to listen due to the power and influence that the Catholic Church had across the city.
Spotlight comes stacked with stellar performances from its ensemble cast. Everyone brings their A-game to the table, but nobody tries to steal the …ahem…spotlight by grandstanding. The closest the film gets to a grand performance piece is a speech by Mark Ruffalo which helps to spur the team on when things get tough. However, even this is played with a subtlety that doesn’t betray the film’s low key realism. It’s not just the main cast which impresses – Spotlight also has an impressive array of supporting actors who bring much to their roles and Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup are both great as two very different lawyers representing the victims.
It could be argued the film lacks in the visual department and that there’s a flat TV-movie style to Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography. It’s obvious this is yet another deliberate choice by McCarthy to stop the film’s story being overshadowed by flashy camera work. Like the acting, its subtle and naturalistic, it’s not about getting your attention, it’s about drawing you into the lives and work of these journalists. However, the minutiae of the day-to-day work carried out by the reporters may lack excitement for some and this won’t be helped by the fact that Spotlight’s finale is quite matter of fact. There’s no courtroom showdown or tense moment when the villains are brought to justice. The news story is published and the atrocities are revealed but as in life, much is left hanging when the credits roll.
A drama which keeps the dramatics to a minimum, Spotlight is a true story that plays out the reality in a realistic and non-cinematic fashion. It’s littered with great acting and impressive story beats but these never take away from the true story at the heart of Tom McCarthy’s film.
Spotlight comes with three short featurettes: Uncovering the Truth: A Spotlight Team Roundtable, Spotlight: A Look Inside and The State of Journalism. They’re okay, but much more is needed on the story behind the film.