A subtle masterpiece of an exposé cinema
This film is proof, were it truly needed, that to invoke emotion from a viewer you do not needed to forcibly bulldoze them emotionally. You do not need people screaming at each other about how they really care about something and think it’s important; you do not need violence to prove someone’s inner rage; you don’t need monologues that reflect on social injustice. This film will grab you and drain you entirely. You will experience burning anger for those who used their positions for powers for unimaginable crimes; hopelessness at how dire at how things have and continue to still be; and cheeks so sodden with tears even when you hadn’t realised you were crying. All of these responses were generated without needless melodrama. Instead the absence of overwrought sentimentality puts the events of the movie and the subsequent emotional response in bold, underlined and italics. A truly crucial and powerful movie. The fact that these are true events is the ultimate sucker punch.
In 2001 Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) joined the Boston Globe as its new editor. The fact he is Jewish was viewed as something of a notable scandal, considering the influence of the Catholic church. In his early introductory meetings with his new staff he meets Walter ‘Roddy’ Robinson (Michael Keaton) who is head of the Spotlight team, a small group of journalists who undertake investigative projects that take months to research and publish. The rest of the team is made up of Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) and Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams). In his new editorial role Baron urges the Spotlight team to follow a lead, a lead which suggests that the Archbishop of Boston knew of a priest who was sexually abusing children and doing nothing about it. A small-time lawyer called Micheal Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) is seemingly the only person doing something about it. However Garabedian is on his own against the entire Catholic church, so after his initial reluctance and a lot of persuading he agrees to work along with Spotlight. A terrifying prospect soon becomes clear, this is not just about one priest but is instead about a huge cover-up of far more and dating back longer than can be imagined. But these secrets have been hidden for so long, and with so many desperate to keep them, it will be far from an easy journey.
Within all of that, and the remaining 3/4 of the movie, there is only one scene of loud, embittered shouting. Only one scene where one character, haunted by the true horror of what has gone on, lets rip at the hoops he will have to continue to jump and dive through. That one scene is made all the more climatic and devastating as a consequence, packing more potency than the entirety of Joy. The storytelling here is superb, the way each revelation unfolds is shown not told. The information is not forcible spoon-fed, instead delivered with little fanfare or fabrication, and is all the more absorbing for it. The suspense created is unlike much of recent cinema, with an awful sense of inevitability and foreboding that doesn’t take away any viscerality from watching the character’s gradual comprehension of their story’s terrible breadth.
However, the emotional impact of the script would be nowhere near as traumatising were it not for the performances of the cast. ‘Ensemble cast’ is a phrase too easily banded-about, but the cast of Spotlight is a true ensemble. Every actor gives the role their all. ‘All’ does not mean flapping your arms about and saying how angry you are. ‘All’ is, and perhaps should be, a simple look at another person that reveals unobjectionable horror. A gaze into the distance with eyes that expose a haunting that will never be forgotten. The ‘heroes’ of this story are not embellished, nor martyred or hero-worshipped. They are real human beings, forced to comprehend and expose systematic abuse from an institution that had such an intrinsic role in all of their lives.
Though it may have only been released in the first month of the year, this will be one of the greatest films of 2016. A fact-based thriller with a beating heart.