Spotlight reviews

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Re: Spotlight reviews

Postby Precious Doll » Wed Dec 23, 2015 12:53 am

Sabin wrote:but ultimately Spotlight is a movie about journalism if it's about anything, the process, how it operates, and there's such a big canvas it has to cover, so it doesn't really have time to get into the meat of that scene. Almost as though Spotlight is such a literal-minded film that something as ambiguous and fraught as that moment doesn't get the due it deserves so it just covers it and moves onward.

However this approach works masterfully in the film's final moments. I can see someone like Ron Howard pouring over the reporters struggling to take all of these victims' calls, remaining strong while doing their job, holding back tears...Spotlight doesn't do that. It just shows one job ending and another one beginning. They're hard at work. And then we're just dwarfed by those credits. Perfect. But I still don't think it's enough to win.


Exactly!

Also I do think Rachel McAdams has one amazingly powerfully moment in the film that is done in silence. It is where she as at the kitchen table sitting with and watching as her grandmother reads the morning newspaper with the story that McAdams has been involved with. Nothing is said but it is one of the most powerful scenes in moments in the film helped by what McAdams character had stated earlier in the film about her own and her grandmothers faith.
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Re: Spotlight reviews

Postby Sabin » Wed Dec 23, 2015 12:32 am

The Big Short has a chance. Not sure about a hell of a chance, but it has a chance. One thing that's so interesting about this year is that it's not that there's a lack of Oscar contenders but there's a lack of Oscar narratives. Something that I found so engaging about 2012 was it seemed like every two weeks a new "The One" emerged and then we'd double back around. It was like primary season. I feel like they should just cancel the Oscars this year and give out Blockbuster Movie Awards. In a way, The Martian is the perfect Best Picture winner for 2015. And maybe that's why it won't happen because nobody seems excited to call anything the Best Picture of the year....except for Mad Max: Fury Road. :)

Spotlight for Best Original Screenplay seems like a given. I think Brie Larson is looking good for Best Actress. The Revenant for Best Cinematography. Carol or The Hateful Eight for Original Score.
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Re: Spotlight reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Tue Dec 22, 2015 10:28 pm

Sabin wrote:Two months ago I had a hunch it was going to be The Martian. Now I'm pretty convinced. It already has some awards from The National Board of Review. I think it's going to handily win Best Comedic/Musical Picture, Best Director, and maybe get Matt Damon Best Actor (who knows?). And then around the time of the DGA awards, sentiment will prevail and bring Ridley Scott his first trophy...and even though the night's going to be a nail-biter, The Martian will end up pulling through.

I think I disagree with just about every word in this paragraph -- for starters, I think The Big Short has a hell of a chance of taking the Comedy/Musical Globe -- and that's why this is, so far, my favorite Oscar season in years. Short of Spotlight for original screenplay, I have about no idea what's winning. I'm even pretty fuzzy on who's competing.

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Re: Spotlight reviews

Postby Sabin » Tue Dec 22, 2015 4:01 pm

I don't object to the content of the scene between McAdams and the priest. It's totally fascinating...but ultimately Spotlight is a movie about journalism if it's about anything, the process, how it operates, and there's such a big canvas it has to cover, so it doesn't really have time to get into the meat of that scene. Almost as though Spotlight is such a literal-minded film that something as ambiguous and fraught as that moment doesn't get the due it deserves so it just covers it and moves onward.

However this approach works masterfully in the film's final moments. I can see someone like Ron Howard pouring over the reporters struggling to take all of these victims' calls, remaining strong while doing their job, holding back tears...Spotlight doesn't do that. It just shows one job ending and another one beginning. They're hard at work. And then we're just dwarfed by those credits. Perfect. But I still don't think it's enough to win.

Two months ago I had a hunch it was going to be The Martian. Now I'm pretty convinced. It already has some awards from The National Board of Review. I think it's going to handily win Best Comedic/Musical Picture, Best Director, and maybe get Matt Damon Best Actor (who knows?). And then around the time of the DGA awards, sentiment will prevail and bring Ridley Scott his first trophy...and even though the night's going to be a nail-biter, The Martian will end up pulling through.
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Re: Spotlight reviews

Postby Okri » Tue Dec 22, 2015 2:52 pm

flipp, I rather agree re: the scene with McAdams and that priest, but I definitely think the film was too timid to really explore something of that emotional complexity.

I'm more interested in the response you and Sabin both have that this isn't really a best picture film. I have to admit that I thought the gut punch of those final moments, where the credits really hammer home the scale of the scandal. And if not Spotlight, what wins?

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Re: Spotlight reviews

Postby flipp525 » Tue Dec 22, 2015 9:37 am

Sabin wrote:Rachel McAdams is a bit bland and she has a truly baffling scene with Fr. Paquin halfway through the film.

What was baffling about it? I actually thought that that was one of the most intriguing scenes and kind of opened up to a larger, grander, certainly more interesting picture (that I think the film was going for but didn't - in the end - necessarily reach which is, I think, what Tee and BJ were hinting at). Fr. Paquin was saying something - if I got this correct - along the lines of Jerry Sandusky: that he was "loving" the boys, showing them affection sexually, but not abusing them. "Rape" is something that had happened to him, he wasn't doing that (which is just some really intense cognitive dissonance). In that moment, it became like this legacy handed down from one generation to the next ("he raped me, so I fuck these kids and then they're messed up so...") which I'm not sure was hammered home in a pleasingly cathartic manner (to borrow BJ's term). It was the castigation of the "system" that the Spotlight team really wanted to indict. And, in that scene, the horrible reality of that system at work was boiled down in such a clean way, I thought they really should've lingered more in that moment. If they couldn't use it for audience catharsis, Rachel McAdams' character (Sasha, was it?) should've had more to do in response to it (her own character's catharsis maybe? The moment with grandma at the dinner table reading the newspaper wasn't quite cutting it.)

I saw this last night and I thought it was solid, if not extraordinary which is what I'm gathering as a consensus opinion here. I also agree with Tee that there was something very un-Boston-like about the movie. The city of Boston needed to be more of a character here especially since it's implied that Boston is such a big part of the cover-up of these horrible abuses. Rachel McAdams was fine, nothing special and certainly not worthy of an Academy Award nomination (for some reason, I became fascinated by a large mole on her face and not her performance which should tell you something.) Mark Ruffalo basically turned in the exact same performance as he did in HBO's The Normal Heart - lots of shouty jeremiads deriding the system. It was a very Quasimodo-inspired performance (you almost expect him to jump out of a window or something with over-excitement). The director really should've reigned him in a bit because it's a very jumpy performance. Michael Keaton was definitely the best of the ensemble and really warrants more awards mentions although he was pretty muted. It's a quiet, contemplative performance that was very effective to me. There weren't any showboating performances, so the team really did act well as an ensemble. I thought Stanley Tucci's scene at the noodle restaurant was strong and Liev Shrieber did bring a gravitas to the situation that made the charges feel more urgent and demanding of our time as an audience. Oh, was that Len Cariou as the Cardinal? Great work there too. I liked Brian D'Arcy James here and thought he provided an interesting perspective from the community (that was one of the only "I'm in the trenches with the people" moments of the film).

The movie feels like something I'll probably never see again which doesn't really feel like a Best Picture to me.
Last edited by flipp525 on Tue Dec 22, 2015 4:22 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Spotlight reviews

Postby Sabin » Sun Dec 20, 2015 2:15 am

Spotlight is a film to admire. It's screenwriting is expert, a textbook model of clarity if never terribly inspired. It's commendably uninflected which makes the ending land that much stronger, although Tee is right in what it loses in wit and personality. My favorite performance in the film is Liev Schreiber's. Whenever he shows up, the film goes to a more interesting place. The film gains an inner-life that I only saw again in Michael Keaton's performance later on in the film. Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup are also quite good. It took me a moment to adjust to Mark Ruffalo's caffeinated performance. Rachel McAdams is a bit bland and she has a truly baffling scene with Fr. Paquin halfway through the film. I also couldn't help but feel that this film would've landed a bit harder years earlier. But it's an extremely proficient piece of storytelling that I wish we saw more of. This film has Screenplay Consolation Prize written all over it.
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Re: Spotlight reviews

Postby Okri » Sat Nov 21, 2015 9:34 pm

I'm a bit closer to Tee than BJ on this one, but I consider that a turnaround after the first twenty minutes, which just felt a little too hacky. That score would not shut up. Well acted by most, though Ruffalo grated and I didn't find Keaton all that great either. Tucci and Schreiber were terrific. McAdams was serviceable.

I find BJ's final thought interesting because I echo him on ROTK/best picture right after seeing it. I've spoken about my mediocrity at predicting these things, so take the following with a grain of salt: I left thinking I had seen the best picture winner.

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Re: Spotlight reviews

Postby flipp525 » Tue Nov 17, 2015 9:26 am

danfrank wrote:I also thought Liev Schreiber was terrific in a quieter role.

I've loved him ever since his supporting role as a transgender woman in Mixed Nuts which was, quite honestly, brilliant. Could he end up being the surprising supporting nominee from this film or complete a '70s-style troika of Keaton-Ruffalo-Schreiber?

Sometimes, the bloggers latch onto a supporting nominee from a film and then someone else (at the last minute) gets nominated. See Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained, not that it's an analogous situation in the slightest here.
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Re: Spotlight reviews

Postby danfrank » Tue Nov 17, 2015 12:44 am

I liked this quite a lot. I wouldn't say that it's the most artful film around, but it tells an important story in a way that packs a big (for me, anyway) emotional punch. It does it without being manipulative but just by unfolding the story in a very effective, peeling the onion kind of way. Initially it feels like a fairly conventional newsroom drama, and then it builds slowly until you really feel the devastation of this large-scale tragic story. Perhaps my Catholic background, like those of the Spotlight reporters, makes the story feel more personal and powerful. I left thinking how the course of my life might have changed completely had I been abused by a priest, a bullet I may have dodged by sheer luck. I really liked how the movie didn't vilify the priests so much as the institutions that feed, conceal, and perpetuate their calamitous deeds. I also liked how it spoke of spiritual as well as sexual abuse. I suppose I would say I liked its perspective. There were a lot of terrific performances. Keaton, the more introspective one, and Ruffalo, the loud emotions-on-his-sleeve one, balanced each other nicely and were standouts. I also thought Liev Schreiber was terrific in a quieter role. This seems like the kind of movie that gets nominated for best picture but doesn't win.

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Re: Spotlight reviews

Postby Big Magilla » Tue Nov 10, 2015 5:05 am

The perspective of a member of the jury at the Venice Film Festival:

“Spotlight” is a film that needs to be taken seriously. Although policies are now in place, from the U.S. bishops’ conference to the Vatican, they have been slow in coming and implementing. At one point in the film, a layman friend of Law asks one of the Globe team about the journalistic ethics of going public with such a story and the reporter answers: What about the ethics of not doing so?

There can be no doubt that The Boston Globe did a great deal of good by exposing Law’s cover-up of what he knew, when he knew it, and what he failed to do: protect the people of God in his care. The Boston story, however, was the tip of the iceberg, as closing credits of the film show. This is the bigger story that Baron was after.

Some may judge Ruffalo’s monologue reaction to the slowdown imposed by Baron as melodramatic, but it made me cry. It cut right through the excuses and the cover-up, and revealed the pain and violence of the abuse, as if he himself were a victim, too.

Schreiber, as the laconic, tough, incisive Baron, is perfect. All the performances are spot-on and the ensemble cast deserves recognition, as does McCarthy for directing and co-writing with Josh Singer. There is a Catholic “inside” sensibility to the film that I think comes from McCarthy’s Catholic background, as well as that of several cast members.

While the story is compelling in itself, there is another dimension that the characters discuss in the film: their own disillusion with the Catholic church that some of them were raised in. Rezendes admits he had stopped going to Mass before this story broke but that he always thought he would go back. But how?

What does this tragic tale say to the people of God? Do we walk away in the face of such a great betrayal and scandal? I think most people have stayed and are working to be part of the solution, realizing that everyone in the church, especially those in the service of authority, have feet of clay.

But I know many who cannot bring themselves to come back, or might come to Mass but that’s about all. The powerful subculture that permitted Law and other prelates to move abusive priests around and hide their knowledge of what those priests were doing is unfathomable to those who do not belong to it.

“Spotlight” shines a strong reflection back on the Globe team’s failure to pay attention to the growing scandal when they had the chance, sources and opportunity. They, too, failed along the way, and they admit it.

I thought it was a little strange that Michael Paulsen, the Globe religion reporter who wrote articles about the scandal, too, did not appear in the film, though the team mentions him. I was living in Boston during this time and his articles are the ones I remember. He shared the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service with the Spotlight team. (It could be that another production is in the works featuring his perspective in the saga.)

I am writing this review at the Venice Film Festival in Italy, where I am serving a part of the SIGNIS Catholic jury. The film is not screening in competition, but I went to the first press screening and the applause was extensive. When the follow-up paragraphs rolled at the end of the film saying that Law resigned in December 2002 and was reassigned to be rector of St. Mary Major in Rome, the audience, made up largely of the Italian press, roared with laughter, because that’s what the church does — move problematic people around and promote them.

At the premiere screening in Venice, another jury member told me that the applause went on and on and included a standing ovation — the first for any film shown at the festival this year.

Regardless of what anyone says, The Boston Globe did the Catholic church a huge favor. “Spotlight” reminds us to keep vigil on ourselves as church, that we will be the Christians we say we are, that we do not choose the institution over God’s people, especially children, the poor and the vulnerable. The press and cinema, in this case, are a blessing.

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Re: Spotlight reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Tue Nov 10, 2015 3:05 am

I don't disagree with the criticisms Mister Tee had, but I guess I'm more glass half full on Spotlight overall, appreciating it for the things it does well -- which aren't insignificant -- rather than being bothered that it's not something greater. Because I found the movie very engrossing -- full of interesting details from scene to scene -- and perhaps I thought it plummed these details for more thematic depth too. It may not have been an especially subtle visual image, but the way the churches in the film just dwarf everything else in sight on-screen is a pretty appropriate metaphor for the movie's main idea, that the Catholic Church is such a dominant/historical/venerated cultural force that it's essentially able to operate above the law. (The moment in which the Spotlight reporters each mention that they grew up in the church, even though their faith has now lapsed, struck me as a not insignificant detail.) And the ways in which aspects of this theme come out in the interviews, like with the man who suggests that the church's arcane views on sexuality fostered an environment that allowed young gay men to be more easily abused, or the pastor who flat-out admits to molesting children to McAdams, or even Keaton's implication to Crudup that he and other lawyers have benefited from these abuse scandals being kept hidden, are the obvious result of filmmakers eager to explore the subject from as many complicated angles as possible.

But, as I said, I wouldn't disagree that the movie falls short of being a tremendous achievement either. Part of this is definitely a visual thing -- although I think this is Tom McCarthy's strongest directorial work in terms of scope, he's still the kind of director who you could praise for being "good with actors," and then struggle to come up with anything more singular you could say about his style. But even beyond that, I don't know that the film culminates in an ending that's fully satisfying -- just about the most interesting late-film story turn is the reveal of the secret Mister Tee mentions, a compelling moment for sure, but a pretty soft one. By the time the movie reached its final shot, it felt to me like it had sort of dribbled out, failing to really climax in a way that, given the heaviness of the subject matter, is almost necessary for catharsis.

The cast across-the-board is good, with Keaton the MVP for me -- I think he brings out the moral weight of his character's own Catholic school upbringing, and the feeling that any of these victims could easily have been him, in the most emotionally resonant manner. Ruffalo is very strong too, though his role is a lot more in line with his usual "shout-to-the-heavens" screen persona as of late to be much of a breakthrough.

As for the "is this the Best Picture winner?" question...who knows. On one hand, despite its merits, it doesn't feel like enough of a special wow to move as easily into frontrunner position as some past winners have. But then again, there are all kinds of winners both qualitatively worse (Gladiator, Crash) and better (The Hurt Locker, No Country for Old Men) that I wouldn't have considered possible winners after I'd just seen them, so the suggestion some have made that you can usually tell these things this far out strikes me as strange. (In fact, thinking about it, the last time I watched a future Best Picture winner and thought, that's the Oscar winner, was probably The Return of the King.)

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Re: Spotlight reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Nov 06, 2015 7:45 pm

I’m afraid I’m going to sound like the grouch on Spotlight, and I don’t truly want to. I like the film perfectly well enough; it’s solid prose, engrossingly written and well performed by a strong cast. It tells a heroes and villains story, where the good guys “win”, but it doesn’t feel manipulative, and keeps the villainy short of the sneering level. If it were to turn into the best picture front-runner many are claiming (I’m agnostic about that for now), it wouldn’t be anything to groan over, and better than some recent choices. But for me it never sings; never achieves the luster of poetry or art. It doesn’t even really display much wit (Brian D’Arcy James’ newspaper delivery was the only thing that jumped out at me as especially clever). It moves doggedly along, like its characters, doing the job crisply, in well-paced fashion. But, to cite one of Damien’s pet phrases, it’s only about what it’s about; there’s no extra dimension. People putting this in a class with All the President’s Men seem to have forgotten the many things that made Pakula’s film special. Apart from the weight of the subject matter, I don’t see this as much better than Truth, and maybe not as exciting as something equally mid-range like Apollo 13.

The film does have an ostensible secondary level: contending there’s something about the parochialism of Boston that particularly enabled this scandal to flourish and remain undiscovered. But it seems to me that parochialism is more referenced than illustrated. In two Lehane adaptations, Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, you could feel Boston tribalism in every moment on-screen; here, people talk about it a lot, but only in a few scenes (like Keaton’s with Jamey Sheridan) does it ooze out. And, maybe this is trivial or maybe it’s crucial, but I don’t know I’ve seen a film set in Boston in recent decades were there were fewer Boston accents on display. As one who has relatives in the city, and has visited it many times, I’ve always been startled by what a distinctive, dominant accent it is; having it in such short supply is like seeing a film set in Mississippi where no one drawls. What I’m saying is, I don’t feel like there was enough Boston in the film. It feels like the work of an outsider who never got close enough to his subject. (Or is just too much a journeyman to supply any particular flavor -- this is Tom McCarthy we're talking about.)

The actors are all, as I said, solid, though no one (perhaps appropriately) really jumps out at you. Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton have the most elaborate roles, and, while Ruffalo has the more colorful character, I’d side with Keaton as the strongest, for the many shadings he shows. (In fact – SPOILER ALERT – I found the secret he was keeping for most of the film the most surprising thing in the script. The way he kept avoiding Slattery, I felt sure Slattery had been the one to ignore Billy Crudup’s delivery.) But I wouldn’t want to forget Stanley Tucci, Jamey Sheridan, Len Cariou, and the actors with whom I’m unfamiliar who play the abuse victims. I’m leaving out Rachel McAdams, I guess, because I don’t think she does anything special, but she’s perfectly acceptable in her role. The cast is a very likely contender for the SAG Ensemble prize, and it’s not undeserved -- but I’d easily favor the more vivid Steve Jobs group.

Based on my 1:00 crowd, this film will have a huge per-screen average this weekend -– though, remember: so did Steve Jobs. I still question how hungry middle America is for a journalists-at-work movie. But it could do solidly enough.

Back to first principles: this is a good, three-and-a-half star sort of movie. It’s hard to imagine anyone disliking it. I just wish I saw the “thrilling” effort touted in reviews.

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Spotlight reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Thu Sep 03, 2015 8:16 pm

Variety
Justin Chang
Chief Film Critic @JustinCChang

It’s not often that a director manages to follow his worst film with his best, but even if he weren’t rebounding from “The Cobbler,” Tom McCarthy would have a considerable achievement on his hands with “Spotlight,” a superbly controlled and engrossingly detailed account of the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into the widespread pedophilia scandals and subsequent cover-ups within the Catholic Church. Very much in the “All the President’s Men”/“Zodiac” mold of slow-building, quietly gripping journalistic procedurals, this measured and meticulous ensemble drama sifts through a daunting pile of evidence to expose not just the Church’s horrific cycles of abuse and concealment, but also its uniquely privileged position in a society that failed its victims at myriad personal, spiritual and institutional levels. The result may be more sobering and scrupulous than it is cathartic or revelatory, but with its strong narrative drive and fine cast, “Spotlight” should receive more than a fair hearing with smarthouse audiences worldwide.

As with so many movies drawn from controversial real-life events, any attempt at damage control by the organization under scrutiny could merely wind up boosting the film’s commercial and cultural profile when Open Road releases it Nov. 6 Stateside. As such, Catholic officials might be disinclined to take up arms against “Spotlight” as vocally as they did with “Philomena” (2013), which invited legitimate criticism with its cartoonishly villainous Irish nuns and other dramatic liberties. McCarthy’s picture is all the more authoritative for its comparative restraint: Perhaps realizing the number of different ways they could have tackled a narrative of this density, the director and his co-writer, Josh Singer (“The Fifth Estate”), have shrewdly limited themselves to the journalists’ perspective, ensuring that everything we learn about the scandal comes to us strictly through the Globe’s eyes and ears.

There are no triumphant, lip-smacking confrontations here, no ghoulish rape flashbacks or sensationalistic cutaways to a sinister clerical conspiracy behind closed doors. There is only the slow and steady gathering of information, the painstaking corroboration of hunches and leads, followed by a sort of slow-dawning horror as the sheer scale of the epidemic comes into focus. When a reporter notes that he’d love to see the looks on the faces of Cardinal Bernard Law (Len Cariou) and other Boston Archdiocese officials, it’s a measure of the film’s rigor that it refuses to oblige.

The sole exception to this ground rule is the prologue, set on a wintry 1976 night at a Boston police station, where a priest named Father John Geoghan is briefly held and then quietly released into the hands of the Archdiocese. Twenty-seven years later, in July 2001, the horrific consequences of that incident have been brought to light, with allegations that the now-defrocked Geoghan molested more than 80 young boys during his time in the priesthood. The Globe runs a few stories but little follow-up, until newly hired top editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), who’s determined to bring a new urgency to the newspaper’s coverage and boost its local impact, turns the beat over to Spotlight, a four-person investigative team led by editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton).

The search proceeds slowly but on multiple fronts. Hard-headed reporter Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) works doggedly to secure the cooperation of Mitchell Garabedian (a spry Stanley Tucci), the notoriously larger-than-life lawyer who’s representing 86 plaintiffs in the Geoghan case, and also to unseal sensitive documents that the Church has successfully buried until now. Another Spotlight writer, Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), digs into abuse claims that have been filed against other local priests, interviewing victims and cornering top attorney Eric MacLeish (Billy Crudup, slick), whose own attempts to hold the Church to account have done little to keep them from, in Robinson’s words, “turning child abuse into a cottage industry.”

That thread is pursued still further by reporter Matt Carroll (Brian D’Arcy James), who discovers an ingenious method of tracing those pedophile priests whose ongoing offenses were not only known but actively enabled by the Archdiocese — usually by sending them to treatment centers before reassigning them to new parishes, where they were free to prey upon children anew. Working with ace d.p. Masanobu Takayanagi, McCarthy directs in a clean, fluid style as he traces the story from the Boston Globe newsroom (the camera often following staffers through the corridors in lengthy tracking shots) to the city’s low-income margins, where priests reliably went after the most vulnerable kids they could find.

As the investigation grinds on for months, with Howard Shore’s score busily marking the passage of time in the background, Robinson and his team realize their job is not just to expose “a few bad apples” (at least 87 priests in the Boston area may be offenders, enough to qualify as a genuine psychiatric phenomenon), but also to prove the existence of a systemic cover-up at the highest levels of Church — one that goes beyond Cardinal Law and extends into the very heart of the Vatican itself. The question becomes not just what to publish but when to publish, as the reporters must figure out how to write the most commanding piece they can before they’re scooped by the competition — or before word leaks back to the Church itself, which is well equipped to fight a public-relations war, especially in Boston.

Even without the onscreen presence of Globe deputy managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery), whose father famously steered the Washington Post through Watergate, “All the President’s Men” would be the obvious touchstone here. Like so many films consumed with the minutiae of daily journalism, “Spotlight” is a magnificently nerdy process movie — a tour de force of filing-cabinet cinema, made with absolute assurance that we’ll be held by scene after scene of people talking, taking notes, following tips, hounding sources, poring over records, filling out spreadsheets, and having one door after another slammed in their faces. When the Spotlight investigation is temporarily halted in the wake of 9/11, we’re reminded that the film is also a period piece, set during a time when print journalism had not yet entered its death throes. Like the American remake of “State of Play” (in which McAdams also played a journalist), McCarthy’s film includes a loving montage of a printing press, busily churning out the next morning’s edition — a valedictory sequence that may move old-school journalists in the audience to tears.

The story’s newsgathering focus ultimately creates a level of distance from its subject that works both for the film and against it. As information-system dramas go, “Spotlight” doesn’t have the haunting thematic layers of “Zodiac,” and it never summons the emotional force of the 1991 miniseries “The Boys of St. Vincent,” still the most devastating docudrama ever made about child abuse within the Catholic Church. Many of the victims depicted here — like Phil Saviano (Neal Huff), head of a local survivors’ group, and Joe Crowley (Michael Cyril Creighton), who movingly recalls his treatment at the hands of a priest named Paul Shanley — function in a mostly expository manner, offering up vital but fleeting insights into the psychology of the abusers and the abused, but without taking pride of place in their own story.

Where the film proves extraordinarily perceptive is in its sense of how inextricably the Church has woven itself into the very fabric of Boston life, and how it concealed its corruption for so long by exerting pressure and influence on the city’s legal, political and journalistic institutions. Given the blurrier-than-usual separation of church and state, and the fact that the newspaper’s own readership includes a high percentage of Irish Catholics, it’s no surprise that it falls to an outsider like Baron — a Florida native and the first Jewish editor to take the helm at the Globe — to play hardball with the Archdiocese. If there’s anything that keeps “Spotlight” from devolving into a simplistic heroic-crusaders movie, it’s the filmmakers’ refusal to let the Globe itself off the hook, pointing out the numerous times the paper’s leaders glossed over reports of abuse that landed on their doorstep.

As he demonstrated in films like “The Station Agent” and “The Visitor,” McCarthy has always had a nicely understated touch with actors, and his ensemble here is a model of low-key excellence. The heftiest roles go to Keaton, who presents Robinson as a flawed but strong, soul-searching leader, and Ruffalo, whose passionately committed Rezendes gets to display the most energy and emotional range (including one of the film’s few excessively histrionic moments). McAdams imbues Pfeiffer with sensitivity and grit, while D’Arcy James brings understated shadings to Carroll, a hard-working family man who’s alarmed to learn that a suspected perpetrator is living in his neighborhood.

Slattery, Tucci and Schreiber all shine in small yet vital roles, while the cast also includes sharp work by Jamey Sheridan and Paul Guilfoyle as two Church-connected friends who try to talk Robinson down from his publish-or-parish stance. We recognize them immediately — and perhaps a bit of ourselves — as members of a great swath of decent yet compromised humanity, the proverbial good men who do nothing and allow evil to flourish.


Screen Daily
Dir. Tom McCarthy, US. 2015. 128mins

A polished, engrossing procedural, Spotlight offers plenty of old-fashioned pleasures — chiefly, the sight of smart, scrappy muckraking journalists stopping at nothing to uncover systematic corruption. With strands of All The President’s Men unmistakably embedded in its DNA, this real-life drama chronicles how, in 2001, a handful of Boston Globe reporters exposed a widespread cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Although director and co-writer Tom McCarthy can fall victim to prestige-picture preciousness and narrative conventionality, Spotlight goes a long way on the strength of superior acting and a crackling tale.

Playing the Venice and Toronto film festivals before hitting US theaters on November 6, Spotlight hopes to court awards-season favour with a cast that includes Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber. Audience awareness of the Church’s sexual-assault crisis could draw discriminating adult viewers, and strong reviews will only help build interest in a journalistic exposé that may not offer many visceral thrills but should satisfy those looking for grownup entertainment.

Taking place over the course of about six months, the film illuminates the work of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team — editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Keaton) and his reporters Michael Rezendes (Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) — who can take up to a year digging deep into investigative pieces for the paper. When their new editor Marty Baron (Schreiber) becomes interested in allegations that Cardinal Bernard Law, Boston’s archbishop, shielded priests who raped young parishioners, Spotlight starts tracking down victims and anyone else who has evidence of the decades-long wrongdoing.

Much like other fact-based films such as All The President’s Men or The Insider, Spotlight derives much of its low-boil intensity from the stripped-down recounting of how these journalists went about revealing the cover-up. Though there is some attempt to fill in these characters’ personal lives, McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor) adopts a just-the-facts-ma’am tone, mostly eschewing huge dramatic moments to let the reporters’ industrious, unglamorous work take centre stage. And because Spotlight is set at a time before the Internet was ubiquitous, that means a lot of face-to-face interviews, combing through court archives and other laborious investigative work that, as filmed by McCarthy and edited by Tom McArdle, has a pleasing, compelling rigour to it.

The filmmaker is aided immensely by a cast topped by Ruffalo, who plays Rezendes with all the tenacity and charm of a pit bull. He isn’t much fun to be around — even his wife seems to have abandoned him — but Rezendes comes across as Spotlight’s unapologetically hardnosed hero, a relentless investigative journalist who attacks his job with the avenging-angel fury of a man who cannot abide corruption and hypocrisy.

Ruffalo’s two main costars, McAdams and Keaton, are both strong as well, playing veteran journalists whose whole lives appear to be their work. In the past, McAdams has been wobbly in dramatic roles, but she has the right tenor for Pfeiffer, who may be the youngest of the Spotlight team but doesn’t shrink from the challenges of confronting difficult interview subjects. And although Keaton’s character is somewhat burdened by a guilty secret, the Oscar-nominated actor exudes a weary, wise tone that makes it obvious why Robinson’s coworkers respect him so.

If Spotlight is more handsomely constructed than revelatory or incisive, it’s because McCarthy drapes the proceedings in a tastefulness that can be smothering. Despite the hot-button topicality at its core, Spotlight isn’t particularly emotional or outraged, and likewise the filmmaking tends to settle into a slightly staid professionalism that’s always crisp but never particular electrifying. But like its ink-stained main characters, it gets the job done with a minimum of fuss.


Hollywood Reporter
by Todd McCarthy

A would-be All the Cardinal's Men, the less-than-resonantly titled Spotlight makes a dry affair of the sensational story of a small circle of Boston Globe journalists who, more than a decade ago, exposed the Roman Catholic church's institutional protection of sexually abusive priests. As numerous notable films have demonstrated, the spectacle of lowly scribes bringing down the great and powerful can make for exciting, agitating cinema, but director and co-writer Tom McCarthy's fifth feature is populated with one-dimensional characters enacting a connect-the-dots screenplay quite devoid of life's, or melodrama's, juices, which are what distantly motivate this story in the first place. Virtuous only by nature of its subject matter, this Open Road release, set to open in November, might have been more at home on the small screen.

It was a very big deal indeed when the church was finally called to account for its history of looking the other way or quietly shuffling misbehaving clergy off to obscure parishes when caught with their robes up or pants down. It was virtually unthinkable to the city's fifty percent Catholic population that the trail would lead all the way to the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Law, who resigned in 2002 when faced with numerous irrefutable first-hand testimonies.

To tell the story, McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer (the dreary The Fifth Estate) focus on the small investigative "Spotlight" team of Globe reporters, who routinely worked on stories for months and wouldn't give up on this one until their chain of evidence was complete and unbreakable. Unfortunately, the filmmakers don't make them interesting and distinctive people, and the uniformly excellent actors playing them can't bring them to life all by themselves. The truly dramatic story here lies off-screen and to a great degree in the past, while the journalists' work consists mostly of persistence, constant grinding and not having a life until the job is done. (And maybe not even then.)

The summer of 2001 was a tough time for the Globe, which had been bought by the New York Times and, like most newspapers, faced an uncertain future. Most uncertain of all are the intentions of the brand new editor in chief, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), just arrived from Florida, a man with no knowledge of Boston and a clear mandate to shake things up.

Reporting to assistant managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery) are Spotlight writers Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Walter "Robby" Robinson (Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Marty Campbell (Brian d'Arcy James), who are set in their ways, although not necessarily in a bad way. They're all smart and have delivered the goods in the past. But they've never sunk their teeth into the subject Marty thinks could be worth pursuing, that of the victims of priestly abuse and the way the perpetrators have managed to go unpunished.

In fact, the Globe has been down this road before, but without much to show for it. Presently there are roadblocks stemming from sealed documents, the statute of limitations and a general reluctance by many victims to go public with such private and shame-producing experiences. But times are changing and Marty, keen to make the Globe "essential to its readers" again, sets the Spotlight gang loose on it.

While investigative journalism films may not comprise a full-fledged genre, there are still certain kinds of scenes in such stories that pop up so often that they do seem both formulaic and inevitable. Among them: Potential witnesses yelling at reporters and slamming doors in their faces, sought-after sources acting coy and slipping tiny hints designed to lead journalists on and drive them mad at the same time, big-shots inviting lowly scribes into rarified private clubs and bastions of power to try to get them to play ball, an editor seeing his shot at glory by pissing off the powers-that-be, reporters forsaking their health and private lives to get the story. These and more are all here, which underlines the problem of fundamental familiarity with a narrative like this: You keep charging ahead, against the odds, until you get the goods.

That's the way it goes here, but without strong characters or startling incidents that might have raised the film's pulse rate. Stanley Tucci cranks things up considerably as a psychotherapist who at first toys with the journalists before unloading gobs of sources and information, including such interesting claims that 50 percent of the Catholic clergy are not actually celibate. Neal Huff scores with the juicy part of a young man who tells all about his childhood of abuse at the hands of priests.

But the capable main actors don't have much to do except chase leads around town and interview those willing to talk; there's no depth given to these reporters. An opportunity is also missed with Schreiber's interloper character, who greenlights the investigation. It's stated that he's Jewish, but there are no reverberations stemming from this, either in the way he might have been regarded as a suspicious outsider by the Catholic establishment or in his own mind about how he thinks he's being perceived. He's a very clammed-up character as presented.

In the end, this material cant help but be interesting, even compelling up to a point, but its prosaic presentation suggests that the story's full potential, encompassing deep, disturbing and enduring pain on all sides of the issue, has only begun to be touched.

Gordon Willis managed to do some great things photographically with the newsroom setting in All the President's Men, but this film is exceedingly plain visually, while Howard Shore's low-key score becomes monotonous.


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