Film Review: Spotlight

Spotlight is showing at Plymouth Arts Centre Cinema from 11 – 17 March. 

Two weeks ago, Spotlight was crowned the winner of the Best Picture award at the Oscars. Unlike some of the other nominated films, Spotlight came out with less hype and media attention than the Leonardo DiCaprio circus that came with The Revenant. However I wasn’t surprised by the win as the story told is an important one.

The film is set in 2001 and centres around the Boston Globe and the investigative team called Spotlight who manage to uncover the child sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church. This is of course based on true events and the film follows real life journalists, Michael Rezendes, Sacha Pfeiffer, Matt Carroll and Walter Robinson as they investigate the horror behind one of Boston’s oldest institutions.

Director and writer Tom McCarthy (who ironically played an unethical journalist in The Wire) presents a film that is heavy on dialogue, interviews and scenes of spooling through endless documents and somehow makes it entirely gripping. Part of the reason is due to the fantastic screenplay which had the potential to get bogged down in exposition but instead, keeps the dense plot moving by continuing to uncover increasingly disturbing actions by the Catholic Church. Of course another reason is the fact that the subject matter is shocking and in recent years increasingly relevant.

The performances in the film are superb. Despite the many famous faces the film is a true ensemble piece and each actor gets there chance to shine in the film. Michael Keaton continues his career renaissance from Birdman as the popular Walter Robinson whose social standing in the Boston community is put in jeopardy thanks to the investigation. In my opinion Keaton delivers the best performance in the film and you continue to root for him as he stands up to his former friends and colleagues. Mark Ruffalo is brilliant and even provides some of the rare comedy in the film as Michael Rezendes and Rachel Mcadams delivers one of the more subtle performances in the film and whilst a small sub-plot, her relationship with her Catholic Grandmother is heartbreaking.

The villains of the film, for example Cardinal Law the Archbishop of Boston do not dominate the story. However as the journalists get deeper into the investigation, more scenes are framed against towering churches. As if the church continues to have an omniscient presence while the scandal remains ‘secret’. The film instead chooses to focus on the victims or ‘survivors’ as they are referred to. One affecting sequence which inter-cuts two interviews with two very different victims is quite disturbing. The detail in which the victims describe their stories of molestation is candid and hard to listen to. The two actors’ performances feel very real and I almost felt at that point it could pass for a documentary.

Spotlight can be seen as a real life horror film. Aspects of the film are creepy, the victims’ accounts and the extent of how big the scandal was make the story utterly terrifying. The level of corruption and the fact that people looked the other way instead of helping to protect any of the children is far scarier than any masked murderer with a machete. There is one great dialogue exchange, where Brian d’Arcy James’ Matt Carrol says to Sacha that he’s been writing a novel. The genre? ‘Horror’.

Benjamin Cherry

Twitter: @bcherry90

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