Spotlight

January 7, 2016 at 7:16 pm | Posted in 2015 | Leave a comment
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Making a mainstream movie about the Catholic priest sex abuse scandal may seem a formidable task and I certainly had my doubts. However, by focusing on the unfolding news story, rather than the abuses themselves, director Tom McCarthy has managed to give us a modern “All the President’s Men.” McCarthy is best known as an actor himself, playing minor roles in dozens of shows and movies going back 20+ years. He’s the guy who’s face you will recognize, even if you don’t remember from where. He has only directed four other independent films, starting a dozen years ago with “The Station Agent,” which was frankly one of the best films that year. He is also responsible for the lovely “The Visitor” and the less successful “Win Win.” But these are all such different films from his current one. They all focus on the relationships between outcasts in very intimate, every day settings. Yet, the drastic change of pace has not hurt him at all. “Spotlight” is a well oiled machine that takes off running with the first scene and maintains a steady pace right to the end. This is not a film that will have you anxiously gasping for breath, fretting for the lives of our protagonists. Like most of real life, it isn’t that dramatic. But this true story of lies within lies is gripping enough. I was genuinely fascinated to watch how the story unfolded and how this small group of reporters broke a story that had massive international implications. This is really the story of how 5 people changed the world. Equally fascinating was Boston, itself. The city is it’s own distinct character here and, more than any other film about Boston, I felt like this one taught me something about what a unique place it is and what it means to be from there. If I have a complaint at all, it is that the film had an amazing roster of great actors but did not give them much to do. Actors like Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber are capable to playing deeply complex characters. Here, however, they are left playing people who are portrayed so nobly it’s hard for them to find much space to act. This was especially noticeable with Michael Keaton who thrives on finding the darkness in a character, and there could have been opportunity here for him to do so. Admittedly, there isn’t much moral ambivalence in a story like this one, yet there is a legitimate question about why some people were complicit for so long, including the very paper that eventually broke the story. I would have liked to see more exploration of that underlying complexity, which existed in many of the characters. The actors were certainly up to the task and, I know from his previous work, that McCarthy knows how to direct that type of performance out of an actor. In fact, we do see it here, just not in any of the lead roles. The best acting of the film (and it was truly brilliant, moving acting) came from the three unknowns who played abuse survivors. Neal Huff, Michael Cyril Creighton and Brian Chamberlain were devastating, each in totally different ways. Had there been more performances like theirs, this might have been one of the best films of the year.

 

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