Sunday, 28 February 2016

Spotlight - Dir. Tom McCarthy

Its status as an ever present competitor in this year's awards season has perhaps caused the momentum behind Spotlight to dwindle as the race reaches its end, which means it will likely lose to the much showier (and gruntier/more grunty/?) The Revenant

That's a shame, not only because Spotlight is one of the year's very best, but because it's a magnificent testimonial to the shrinking practice of long term journalism and a fascinating exploration of how the deep rooted influence of an institution such as the Catholic Church can directly and indirectly affect the people of Boston.

Spotlight is the name given to a small investigative team at the Boston Globe newspaper who uncovered a systemic suppression by the Catholic Church of the sexual abuse of children, perpetrated by nearly 90 priests in Boston over 30 years. The film, from writer/director Tom McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer, methodically and steadily recreates the lengthy investigative process; the result is a smart procedural drama that trusts an audience to follow what could be described as a sequence of scenes of people talking, scribbling and reading. However, it's so tightly constructed that every scene sheds more light on the extent of the cover up but crucially, each revelation is met with dumbfounded near silence and not histrionic gasps; Howard Shore's tuneful but suitably subtle enhances these scenes and never intrudes).

This calm resolve also makes the one scene where emotions do boil over even more memorable as Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) argues with team leader Walter 'Robbie' Robinson (Michael Keaton) over the status of their investigation. It comes at the point where the team finally have the evidence that they need and, perhaps taking a step back from the exhaustive inquiries, the full extent of what they've uncovered hits Rezendes like a smack in the face. The reactions of colleagues Sacha Pfiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James) is a mix of that same shock and the guilt of only discovering this now. They've been discussing the case for months, but this feels like the first time they've heard the facts be put so bluntly.

Rezendes' reaction is given a great explanation in a scene afterwards where he says that despite no longer practicing Catholicism, he used to enjoy going to church and considered it as someone that would always be there for him to return to if he needed. It's a more complex relationship with faith and religion than simply believing or not believing and one that's perhaps indicative of the people in a city where Catholicism is such a major force. What they've uncovered needs to be told but, as 'Robbie' argues, it is not the full extent of the story and not enough to ensure that the tide turns against the Church in a city like Boston; they need to show that this is more than just "a few bad apples' that the Church would likely push for them to believe.

As much as this is a story about the cover up of sexual abuse, it's also a film about the city of Boston with its insular community and the outsiders who see the situation with a unique clarity. It's the Globe's new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), an unmarried Jewish man who doesn't like baseball, who first tasks Spotlight with looking at the allegations in more detail than the paper has ever done before. It's Armenian lawyer Mitch Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) who takes on the cases of numerous abuse victims to ensure their voices are heard. Almost everyone else has Boston and/or Catholicism in their life and their complex reactions to the unfolding story succinctly provide the relevant background on the characters that we need. The blinkers are lifted and the foundations of what they've been taught and told by previous generations crumbles, but they aren't entirely surprised either. Their shame turns to guilt and a defensive stance that suggests they know they've could've and should've done better.

All of the cast, from the aforementioned to the likes of John Slattery, Billy Crudup, Jamey Sheridan, Michael Cyril Creighton and Paul Guilfoyle, do sterling work and make a mockery of the lead and supporting categories that awards bodies stick to and may hopefully lead to the implementation of a 'Best Ensemble' award in the future. It's understated nature is the film's undeniable strength but McCarthy makes plenty of considered choices in his direction, from following Matt Carroll as he runs out to the rehab facility around the corner from his home to emphasize its proximity, to holding the final shot as the city of Boston begins to react to the team's investigation. The film, edited by Tom McArdle, quickens and slows down at all the right moments, employing efficient montages to keep the running time to a tight 2 hours 8 minutes.

So, Spotlight probably won't walk away with the top prize at the Oscars (a 'Best Original Screenplay' win seems likely though) but it should be remembered as one of the decade's very best in years to come.

Spotlight was released in UK cinemas on 29th January 2016.

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