We often find ourselves in situations when it is hard to deny that truth is stranger than fiction. No matter how hard to digest the news might be, it is the duty of the journalist to bring it to light so that injustice may not thrive beneath our noses. There is little injustice that invites the scorn and disbelief of the general public like the taking advantage of little ones, and all the more when it comes from an institution most people turn to for security. Cormac McCarthy’s Spotlight is the film that sees to the fulfilment of the journalistic dream two-ways – in creating nuanced and well-formed characters in journalists, and in playing second newsman with the startling headline that ran in the Boston Globe back in 2002. This all-rounder – already sweeping up the Oscar buzz – featuring well-cut and drawn out performances and the gentle touch required to address a subject of this nature reaffirms faith in earnest journalism, something all of us could do with.
There is always a heavy-hitter at the Oscars; the one drawing intricate performances from a stellar cast, telling a story relevant for the times and addressing a subject that touches a sensitive nerve for most of us, which just seems the safest bet. Safe or not, Spotlight just might deserve the big one for the incredible way in which all its elements come together to create a cohesive story that never swaps reality for passion. The film follows Spotlight, the special investigative team at the Boston Globe as they dig deep into a scandal story that had remained buried for years for fear of its impact. On an order from the new editor, the team starts tracing small stories, hushed-up suits and a long line of victims to get to the bottom of the child molestation scandal. It is a touchy topic for any given group of people, to have their institution of faith smeared with the psychological pain of children, but more so for the predominantly Catholic community of Boston for whom the church is part and parcel of their daily lives. Faced with personal dilemmas, the team at Spotlight know that it is a story that will only wound the spirit of their readers, but at the same time a story they had to tell.
Rather than a documentation of the tragic story or an appeal to the emotions of the people, Spotlight tells the story of the men and women who were affected by the story: victims, perpetrators, and all else who had their faith put to the test. McCarthy tries no experiments here, and the film is all the better for what isn’t there, as much as it is for what is. Saying more with less is often what shows the true intelligence of a filmmaker; and Spotlight engages its viewers in a game of restraint that without giving itself over to bursts of emotion, succeeds in gradually shifting the weight of its tragedy to its viewers. It is a slow burn that does not indulge in moments, but in its clinical precision pays respect to the lives of all touched by the scandal and attempts to place us viewers in its time and setting. Spotlight serves up for its audience a slice of Boston life layered by the visible accents of its characters and the general trust in the Catholic Church. It takes each of us through the otherwise mundane job of reporting by giving it a purpose so deeply tied to not just their professional ethics but also to the community the reporters live in, proving once again that the victory of journalism is in surfacing the truth against all odds.
One of the main reasons McCarthy’s films comes together so well and makes its substance work is the intricate performances that propel the story forward and reflect the sentiments of the public that was woken to this harsh truth. With such a seasoned, well-rounded cast – all equipped with broad range and rich subtlety – of Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber and Billy Crudup all deeply moved by the scandal, it is no surprise that Spotlight works as well as it does. And while the ‘spotlight’ is certainly on the actors in this moving story, it is a soft one that does not overshadow the subject matter, each actor keeping with the restraint exercised by the film. The right team to handle so sensitive a subject, the cast and crew of Spotlight have succeeded in telling the story paying respect to all involved and yet not riding entirely on pure emotional weight. The standouts by an inch are Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, with the former absolutely down on his character, embracing the Boston swagger and speech. Nothing really sticks out as jarring in the feature, something all-star casts are most often prone to: a commendable effort by the director in weaving the space between the characters. It was essential that this tough story have a personal touch for the audiences to get engrossed, and it is exactly that which Spotlight delivers in telling the story as the triumph in journalism that it was. Peering through the eyes of Bostonians not directly involved in the crime, the audience is made to feel every pang in the strides to discovery as the alarm of being blind to something so huge underneath their noses shakes the community.
If there was one word to describe Spotlight with, it would be ‘elegant’. From the sharp and fluid lines of conversation to the very realistic portrayal of those on either side of the scandal, the film brings to mind great films of yesteryear like All the President’s Men, also displaying journalistic victory. By bringing together a wonderful set of character actors, each playing to the film’s strength rather than their own, McCarthy has crafted a delicate piece on a delicate issue. Managing to make the investigation by the Globe’s reporters engaging beyond what is usually capable of true stories, Spotlight shines light on two institutions – the Catholic Church and print media – both of which are under tough moral dilemmas surrounding the issue. Despite the ease in riding the shock and sorrow that any audience would have to such a grave subject, the film decides instead to tell the story of lives affected by this unforgettable crime. And that is what makes McCarthy’s Spotlight one of the best true stories brought to screen to date.