sun 26/05/2024

Spotlight | reviews, news & interviews



Oscar hopeful refocuses recent events as a modern-day tragedy

All the Globe's men (and one Oscar-nominated woman): the investigative journos in `Spotlight'

Communities function in different ways depending on their constituencies, to note just one of the many salient points made by the deeply compelling and equally disturbing Spotlight.

The Catholic church in Boston for years closed ranks and shut its eyes so as to enable the systemic culture of child abuse that a cadre of Boston Globe journalists in time uncovered, winning a 2003 Pulitzer Prize for their work: one societal sector pitted against the other only for the scribes' sleuthing to emerge triumphant alongside a legacy of damage that time will never fully put right. 

The Globe's achievement remains no mean feat at a time when journalism is more often regarded as a debased profession, but thankfully not here, and among the achievements of director and co-writer (with Josh Singer) Tom McCarthy's film is its gift for reminding us of the investigative sweat to which the fourth estate once aspired. Nominated for six Oscars, the film exists in the nearly-vanished tradition of All the President's Men, and not only because Jason Robards in that Watergate-era chronicle played the father of the reporter-turned-editor Ben Bradlee Jr. nicely taken by Mad Men alumnus John Slattery on this occasion. 

Not that it's easy sailing tackling this story in this locale, not least in the wake of 9/11 when newspapers are seen to have other, more immediate matters on their minds and the Globe itself has a new editor, Marty Baron (a coolly persuasive Liev Schreiber, pictured above), whose outsider status to the city under scrutiny is a mixed blessing. The newspaper industry, after all, is looking to make cuts, not to expend and expand resources on what might well turn out to be a fruitless task. 

And besides, or so avers the firmly spoken Cardinal (Len Cariou) who is keen to sustain a clerical even keel, Boston is a small town. As a result, its newspaper challenges the local orthodoxy at significant peril to the carefully calibrated infrastructure whereby the city functions as an assemblage of tribes. 

At the same time, there's always been that higher journalistic calling when a story becomes a quest, and so it is that the members of the Spotlight team rarely walk when they can run, pausing only to scribble furiously into notebooks – so much so that I did wonder at one point whether cassette recorders had made it to New England.

Indeed, one of the pleasures of the movie is the way it recalls celluloid rituals all but lost to our digital age: at the critics' screening attended, you could practically hear those present letting slip a collective purr at the sight of the presses rolling with a society-changing scoop: those were the days! And there's the separate thrill that comes from the sight of cuttings files being wheeled in haste along a corridor, which brings with it a satisfaction unavailable to our Google-obsessed times.

The events under investigation carry an inevitable gravitas, and the film makes any number of smart if unexpected decisions as the journos tighten the noose on their ever-widening prey. Those seeking relief from the gathering momentum won't find the contrapuntally-intended scenes of domestic life that such tales usually allow: precisely none of the male reporters are shown with a partner of any sort. Indeed, we learn all we need to know about the innate resistance in some quarters to the story from the dynamic between Spotlight team member Rachel McAdams's impassioned Sacha Pfeiffer (pictured above) and her ageing, church-going Nana, for whom ignorance on some fronts very clearly is bliss. 

McAdams and a fevered Mark Ruffalo – the latter here cast as a freshly sensitised bloodhound who won't be deterred from the cause underlying his course of action – have garnered the bulk of awards-season attention, but the film really is a study in ensemble playing writ unostentatiously large. Michael Keaton shifts gears dramatically post-Birdman as the determinedly grounded team editor Walter Robinson, while Billy Crudup and Stanley Tucci (pictured right) impress as two very different sorts of lawyers – i.e. smarmy and smart. 

And no praise is too high for Michael Cyril Creighton in the small but defining part of Joe Crowley, a onetime victim of abuse who has learned to incorporate the psychosexual depredations of his youth into daily life without having ever allayed them for keeps. A footnote to the film reveals the extent to which the specifics of what happened in Boston were and of course still are replicated the world over, at which point Spotlight exists to shine a searchlight on a moment from history that human behaviour tragically refuses to leave consigned to the past.  

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Spotlight

Tom McCarthy's film makes any number of smart if unexpected decisions as the journos tighten the noose on their ever-widening prey


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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 Spotlight  shines light on an institution that has persisted in aberrant behaviour for almost two milenia.  Hollywood on rare ocassions stumbles into doing the world a great service. In Christ's Name  I thank you for 'Spotlight'.

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