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2016-02-05 08:12

What it's about:

The true story of a team of investigative journalists from the Boston Globe who, in the early 2000s, uncovered a conspiracy to hide a widespread epidemic of child molestation at the hands of Catholic priests throughout the city.

What we thought:

By turns a glowing tribute to the power of a dying breed of investigative journalism, an exploration of institutionalised evil and an examination of how a city's power structure affects an individual with lifelong ties to said city, Spotlight may not exactly be big on high-octane thrills but it's a highly compelling and powerful true story that packs plenty of dramatic punch, even as it educates us about something of which we should all be well aware.

Directed with understated prowess by indie darling Tom McCarthy (who also co-wrote the script with Josh Singer), the film seldom relies on grandstanding or big emotional beats and it handles its often touchy subject matter with respect and taste – effectively getting out of the way of its own story. Held up against its Best Film competition in this year's academy awards, Spotlight looks almost televisual by comparison but what it lacks in cinematic power (and lacks it, it does), it gains in storytelling finesse.

Spotlight is the sort of film where nothing feels extraneous, where not a word is wasted nor a single scene drawn out beyond what is strictly necessary. It follows a strict, procedural structure as we follow our intrepid but everyday heroes' quest to piece together their shocking story, but this central discipline allows us to also get a good feel for who these people are and how they relate to one another, to their city and to the Catholicism that hangs over their lives no matter how "lapsed" they may profess to be – all without ever becoming overstuffed or unfocused. 

And, make no mistake, there is plenty of opportunity for the film to become almost Tarantino-esque in bloat and self-indulgence as it is stuffed to the hilt with intriguing side characters, surprising world-building and often complex themes but it never takes its eyes off the ball: even coming in at a respectable but highly satisfying 128 minutes. It also has a righteous anger that isn't only earned but remains even-handed so, while it is quick to lambaste the Church for covering up the unforgivable actions of a shocking number of its priests, it is equally quick to point out the failings of everyone from respected city officials to successful lawyers to the Globe itself for their parts in failing to stop – even sometimes actually aiding in – the horrors that surrounded them for years.

It's complex, nuanced stuff and the exceptional cast, headed by the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Michael Keaton, are more than up to the challenge of giving equally complex, nuanced performances that add great depth to their real-life characters, even as the rest of the film remains squarely focused on the plot. Arguably most impressive of all, though, is Liev Schreiber who does so much with so little as the Globe's new editor, Marty Baron, who, as a Jewish, non-Bostonian, can see what's going on in the city in the way that no native ever could. His screentime is fairly limited and his performance quietly dignified so it would be easy to overlook him but, for all that the film is a true ensemble piece with no real lead actor, his role as the catalyst of all that happens deserves special praise all the more because of how quiet he is.   

Like Schreiber, in fact, it is the film's very quietness that makes it the wonderful piece of work that it so obviously is. You probably won't lose much if you don't catch it on the big screen but Spotlight needs to be seen, both for its beautifully realised, subtle storytelling and for the incredible story it has to tell.


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