A masterclass in subtlety.
Well it took me a few months, but I finally got around to watching Spotlight. I don’t think I could have seen this film soon enough. Director Tom McCarthy crafted an absolute master piece here. Watching this film I experienced shock, disgust, anger, and bewilderment. But McCarthy didn’t force these emotions upon me. No, he did the exact opposite, and that is what is so brilliant about this film.
Spotlight is based on a true story and chronicles a team of journalists working for The Boston Globe who investigate widespread systematic child sexual abuse within the confines of the Catholic church. Through their investigation they come into contact with several victims of abuse, as well as lawyers and members of the Catholic clergy that helped cover up these awful events.
Knowing that the content in this film actually occurred in real life horrified me. McCarthy is absolutely aware of the fact that this is how much of the audience will feel when they watch this film. McCarthy knows this is a true story, and he uses that to his absolute advantage in his directorial style. Everything about this film is so subdued and real. Watching this didn’t feel like watching a movie. It felt like watching a documentary, and I mean that in the best way possible.
McCarthy revels in the mundane with Spotlight. This could have easily turned into a generic thriller, fabricating events to play up the drama of the entire situation, trying to show the Catholic church go after the team of journalists as they continue to uncover more and more of the church’s disgusting secrets. But no, McCarthy doesn’t do that. Instead he focuses on the small quiet moments between the investigators and victims of abuse, as well as the frustrations they go through when trying to navigate legal red tape. There is no real danger or threat to the protagonists of this film. These journalists aren’t heroes, they are simply a group of people doing their job, trying the best they can to bring these horrific acts to light.
Because this story feels so real and authentic, the stories of child abuse and the Catholic Church’s cover up are so much more powerful than if McCarthy had over dramatized the situation. The outrage I felt watching Spotlight is unlike anything I have ever felt watching a film before.This is especially punctuated by the fact that this film has no real emotional outbursts or catharsis of its own, sans one or two scenes where it felt absolutely justified. It allows the audience to feels these emotions on their own, instead of showing it to them. Everything about this film is understated, and that is what makes it so effective.
This muted style of McCarthy translates to equally subdued performances from the cast, and everyone knocks it out of the park. Mark Ruffalo gives a standout performance, transforming into the character of Michael Rezendes, so much so that at times I honestly forgot that I was watching Ruffalo portray a character, I was that invested in his story. The same can be said for the rest of the cast as well. Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, and Stanley Tucci all give equally great performances, but none of them completely disappear into their character quite like Ruffalo did. There is no real Everyone plays off each other so well that I did not feel like I was watching a group of actors giving amazing performances, I felt I was watching a group of real people dealing with a real and horrific situation.
The cinematography in the film is nothing spectacular, it’s actually quite ordinary. This works in the context of the film however, as it continues to reinforce McCarthy’s remarkable ability to show restraint in his directing. There are no real directorial flourishes you would find in this film if someone like a David Fincher or Danny Boyle had directed it. Like everything else in this film, the way it shot is indistinct, if unremarkable, preventing any distraction from the events that are taking place in the film, and giving focus to the real life consequences of the film.
The film captures something so raw and real that by the end of it when the credits roll, and it lists all the cities in the world that have been effected by Catholic cover ups I was left speechless. This film had such an effect on me that I’m still reeling from it even as I write this review. I absolutely loved this film, but I’m not sure if I can say that it is an enjoyable experience.