From the Archives: Spotlight review

From the Archives: Spotlight review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

Comparisons are being drawn between Spotlight and All the President’s Men, and it’s easy to see why. Both films are about the power of journalism, as well as the necessity of adhering to moral and journalistic standards in the face of a looming, malevolent power. Both are tales of the underdog being vindicated, and both feature Oscar-caliber work from a talented cast of actors. It’s a valid comparison for sure, and both films are primo pieces of work. Where they differ is more interesting, however. With All the President’s Men, there is a bit of glamour tacked on to the proceedings. Journalism is cool, and journalists are James Bond. But Spotlightdoes not heighten anything, not even a little. There is no Deep Throat-style smoking gun, and there are no threats to anyone’s lives (livelihoods, sure, but no one fears death). Instead of seeking stories in back alleys and parking garages, the reporters of Spotlight are knocking on doors and taking lunches. They are working. They are doing work. They are at work. The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team is a group of people who are given a job – one they are passionate about – and who set about doing their job as efficiently as they know how. It’s work made to look like work and even without Sorkin/Mamet hyper-dialogue it’s positively electric.

Starring an ensemble of today’s finest actors (all of whom are being submitted to the Academy’s Best Supporting categories – there are no leads outsides of the ones being chased ::winky face::), Spotlight tells the story of the reporters who worked tirelessly to expose decades of pedophilia amongst the Catholic Church’s hierarchy, and the systematic cover-up of the evidence. It was a huge story at the time, and it caused a worldwide reappraisal of the Church which is still occurring today. Moreover, the story was broken in Boston, a town where clergymen is just as powerful as politicians, and it was broken by a paper which recently brought in a Jewish editor. All of this at a time (2001) when the printed word was beginning crumble under the weight of the Internet. To crack this story was an uphill battle, and Spotlight puts us right in the center of it.


Director Tom McCarthy, who co-wrote the film with Josh Singer, is coming off the heels of The Cobbler, the Adam Sandler vehicle known for being a special type of garbage. Luckily, Spotlight is stylistically and spiritually closer to McCarthy’s other work (The Station AgentWin Win). McCarthy’s films are generally devoid of flash, and his brown bag-lunch style makes Spotlight feel real, despite the all-star cast.

The team consists of Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James. Most reviews are going to tout Ruffalo as the standout, and while he’s quite good (for he is THE RUFFALO), my eyes were on James. His performance carries with it the quiet frustration that must come with working such a story. Everything about him screams “reporter,” from his sly demeanor down to his mustache, and while he doesn’t chew scenery quite like Ruffalo, and has considerably less screen time, his character inevitably feels richer. McAdams continues to grow, delivering her strongest work to date, while Michael Keaton may end up receiving the Oscar for which he was so cruelly denied just last year. Then again, if everybody is up for Best Supporting, Liev Schreiber could run away with it. His turn as the newly appointed editor of the Globe captures the raw determination of the man who, despite being an outsider (in more ways than one), handles himself with class, showing determination to not only crack the story, but deliver the best version of it imaginable. Then there’s Stanley Tucci, who forgoes every opportunity to flail with cartoonish gusto, instead choosing to play his role as a prominent attorney small, but colorful. It’s these choices that allow each character in the film to shine without stepping on one another, and it works. Without an obvious star or overt theatrics, Spotlight keeps its tone accessibly blue-collar.

Spotlight is already being touted as a front runner for Oscar season, as it should be. Relevant, exciting, and minimal (on a grand scale), this one is unmissable.

Spotlight opens in Philly area theaters today.

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