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.
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SPOTLIGHT is a film that can win as many awards as possible, gain the attention and high praises of anyone who sees it, and the film would still be an understatement. What this film achieves, is something that most films never come close to; accountability. This film holds everyone accountable; from the Catholic Church, the lawyers making easy money on out of court settlements, society that has turned a blind eye, and above all – the journalists themselves.
Director and co-writer Tom McCarthy brings a subtlety masterful hand to this film. There are not any sweeping camera movements in the direction, there’s nothing that explodes from the screenplay. As wonderful as the performances are, there isn’t a scene stealer, there isn’t one juicy role for an actor to come in and show off. It is meticulously crafted by McCarthy and his GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS worthy ensemble. In a word, this film is perfection.
Michael Keaton headlines the cast as the tough Robby Robinson, whose floating Boston accent heads the Boston Globe’s investigative unit Spotlight. Keaton gives a tremendous low key performance, doubling down on his cache he had received from his brilliant turn in BIRDMAN. Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams follow behind Keaton as his two forwards, obsessively losing themselves in their quest to find the truth.
The subject matter is very hard to watch, and very hard to re-live for those affected by sex abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church, those affected by lawyers quietly arranging hush money in the shadows of the Church all the while making sure there isn’t a paper trail of court documents, and lastly, those affected by the oversite of reporters who either missed tips, or did not take them seriously. This film is not about atonement, this film is about it’s accountability to the survivors.
Our coverage of the 31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival is up! This has been our first red carpet coverage, and included are interviews with actors James Morrison, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Carl Weathers, film historian Leonard Maltin, filmmakers Benjamin Cox of STEREOTYPICALLY YOU and Tom McCarthy of SPOTLIGHT, producers Marcia Nasatir (THE BIG CHILL, COMING HOME, IRONWEED) and Sarah Green (THE NEW WORLD, THE TREE OF LIFE, TO THE WONDER, KNIGHT OF CUPS) and executive director of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Roger Durling. We then dive in, head first, into Terrence Malick’s new film KNIGHT OF CUPS which had it’s US Premiere, and was the Centerpiece film at this years fest. We would like to thank Roger Durling and the staff of the SBIFF for accommodating Podcasting Them Softly at the festival this year. To find out more about the SBIFF please click here.