Neil Jordan’s In Dreams will blow you away as far as the style department goes, if being a little short up in terms of story. It’s your serial killer chiller given a supernatural twist a lá The Cell: Annette Bening plays a relatively innocuous woman who shares a sort of psychic bond with a murderer out there somewhere, his motives and actions related to her in atmospheric dream sequences that use specific imagery and sound to provide vague clues. The danger hits closer to home, however, when her own daughter is kidnapped by this killer. Her dreams are dismissed by her shrink (Stephen Rea) and a detective (Paul Guilfoyle), but when her pilot husband (Aiden Quinn) is also put in the crosshairs, she’s forced to use what scant, surreal information she has to track down the source and stop him. He’s played by Robert Downey Jr. of all people, who is already an odd enough choice before you take into account the mop of dreadlocks he’s adorned in once he does show up. He’s menacing enough in his own Downey way, but I can’t help feel it was a bit of a stunt cast on Jordan’s part. The main draw and enjoyment I got out of it is the hyper stylized, meticulously lit dream sequences that could be lifted right off the screen and put on canvas, they’re simply gorgeous. The story just can’t seem to keep up with the visuals though, it’s a retread we’ve seen many a time without much deviation from the path. Still, the colour palette and stark imagery hold enough power to deem this a winner in that respect.
Spotlight focuses on a devastating turn of events which were ripe for melodrama, and instead turns out to be a spare, minimalistic entry that knows how to keep things close to the chest and still be deeply affecting. Director Tom McCarthy takes a fly-on-the-wall approach to his technique, showing us an intimate glimpse at what it no doubt must have been like for these Boston reporters as they brought to light one of the most sickening and heinous atrocities of our time, the sexual abuse scandal of the Catholic Church, which rotted through many a priest, parish and law firm who insidiously kept their mouths shut about the whole deal. For the reporters, ignorance was just not on the table, no matter what the consequences. Rachel McAdams is tender and fearless as Sacha Pfeiffer, a keen operative who is first to smoke out a lead, bringing it to her boss, the legendary Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson, (Michael Keaton), and the executive in charge of the paper, Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery). The matter is brought to further attention by Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), who arrives from out of state. It’s Mike Rezendes though, played by a stunning Mark Ruffalo, who drives the point home, refusing to give up and shoving loads of empathy down the throats of those who would look the other way. Ruffalo is note perfect, his determind sentiment delivered with compassion and impact that lingers. He hounds diamond in the rough lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci hides the sympathy behind the sass) to allow him access to the victims, giving him something concrete to go on. The bitter side of the lawyer coin comes in the form of Eric McLeish (underrated Billy Crudup), a passively belligerent guy who is anything but cooperative until the hammer comes down. Richard Jenkins proves that he can turn in excellent work with nothing but his voice, playing a source who is heard only via phone calls. Keaton is brilliant, bringing the laid back nature and giving the character an easy listening style Boston accent. McAdams mirrors the hurt in those she interviews with eyes that echo years of suffering. Tucci comes the closest the film gets to comic relief, and then veers into dead serious mode as he realizes his character is in control of lives with the info he has, snapping to rigid attention. Watch for work from Jamey Sheridan, Len Cariou, Brian D’Arcy James and Paul Guilfoyle as well. The film arrives at its destination free from obvious emotional fireworks, on screen text or sensationalism, elements which often permeate true life stories. It’s simple, to the point, grounded and diligent to story, character and truth. That approach makes it all the more shattering.