For a film about the wrongdoings of the Catholic church, which bases its beliefs around the idea of sin, it would only be appropriate for director Tom McCarthy to redeem himself with this sharp take on investigative reporting as an atonement for the sin that was The Cobbler – this year’s dreadful Adam Sandler comedy. With Spotlight McCarthy offers a fascinating and eye-opening look into the controversial specter of sexual abuse with an appropriately named film that shines a bright light on its stellar cast and director.
For those calculating such things, Spotlight will surely be among the best come awards season this year. In full disclosure, this writing had to be held and amended with the recent announcement of the Independent Spirit Awards nominations on November 24. Spotlight is nominated for four Spirit Awards that include: Best Feature, Best Director, Tom McCarthy, Best Screenplay, Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer, and Best Editing, Tom McArdle, and has taken the Robert Altman Award for Best Ensemble. The film has also won the Gotham Award for Best Ensemble this year.
Tom McCarthy is no stranger to awards season, already snagging two Spirit Awards, one for directing “The Visitor” and another for Best First Screenplay for 2003’s “The Station Agent,” while 2011’s “Win Win” received a nomination for Best Screenplay. 2007’s “The Visitor” helped Richard Jenkins nab an Oscar nomination while McCarthy shares an Oscar nomination with Pete Docter and Bob Peterson for Pixar’s “Up.”
Thus far, the best film of the year has been “Steve Jobs,” but Spotlight is a close second with some of the best understated acting this year. While Danny Boyle’s film is more about Aaron Sorkin’s razor sharp dialogue and over-the-top masterful performances, Spotlight is much more low-key and unassumingly complex. Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Mark Ruffalo are brilliant in their roles as the investigative reporters for the Boston Globe, who boldly took on the Catholic church in order to expose child molestation and a decades long cover-up within the church.
Spotlight bashes through the immovable doors of theology to expose corruption amidst a religious institution. None of this is new, of course, but Spotlight still manages to be an eye-opening experience in it’s own right. The film exposes the scope of corruption encompassing a network of systemic smoke and mirrors where accused priests are merely relocated and their offenses covered up, spreading, in the process, a virulent strain of molestation.
The film’s events transpire in 2001/2002, and although their investigation is the exposure of a religious institution, one could apply the same audacity to the exposure of methods employed by the U.S. government in the post-9/11 era. Given this, it’s no real surprise that 9/11 is mentioned briefly in the film as a way to connect the dots to the larger picture.
In the context of Spotlight, the investigative team are faced with a conundrum as Americans mourn the terrible events of September 11th. Do they hold off releasing their findings or do they go ahead as planned, thus shaking an institution at a seemingly inappropriate time? It’s only a fleeting moment in the film, but still worth noting because of its implications: when does it become appropriate to expose corruption in an institution, and when one reveals a harsh truth in a Catholic community does it make one less Catholic, or less American?
For the second year in a row Mark Ruffalo will likely pick up his second Oscar nomination in as many years. In last year’s “Foxcatcher” I raved about his fantastically adept and subtle performance. This year is no exception, as Ruffalo (playing Mike Rezendes) continues to prove his acting abilities go beyond a Hulking green beast every couple of years at Marvel’s behest.
Rachel McAdams continues to do the same, revealing the scope of her abilities by taking on much darker and dramatic roles that are a far cry from works in “The Notebook” and “Mean Girls.” Her work on True Detective this year and now in Spotlight comes to hint at the new trajectory of her career, slowly inching to what have become solid performances. McAdam’s role as Sacha Pfeiffer is played with a naturalness unlike any role she’s ever taken on.
How about Mr. Oscar-nominated Michael Keaton? As a lovable icon of 80s and 90s Hollywood blockbusters, he’s come back with a vengeance with great performances in complex roles and channeling a great acting ability unseen before – and I’m liking where he’s headed. As Walter Robinson he continues to revitalize and reinvent his career, proving he’s more than capable in dramatic roles.
The great performances don’t end at the aforementioned trio. Liev Schreiber plays a grimly no-nonsense editor Marty Baron and Stanley Tucci, also a no-nonsense attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who aids Rezendes.
With a dialogue heavy script (one of the year’s best), Spotlight is a film that requires multiple viewings to fully appreciate the scope and denseness of the material. Here is a film about the art of fearless journalism in the face of public scrutiny, and, yes, even doing the right thing. This might come off as superficial and straightforward in lesser hands, but director McCarthy expertly crafts and displays such things with a stellar cast in top form, making Spotlight nestle in the conscious with thought provoking stimulation, leaving one wanting more.