Spotlight poster

“Spotlight” is the investigative team at the Boston Globe newspaper who focus on ‘big’ issues that they select to pursue – work that can take many months to come to fruition. Headed up by Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton) the rest of his team are Mike (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha (Rachel McAdams) and family man Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). It’s 2001 and times they are a changin’ at The Globe. New editor Marty Baron (Liev Schrieber) is a workaholic wild duck from Florida with transformation in mind. He sees value in the team pursuing a ‘cold’ story about a Catholic priest accused of multiple counts of paedophilia, all of which appears to have been quietly ‘shushed up’ by the church. The investigation progressively uncovers a far more widespread and murkier story that goes on to break as a global scandal for the Catholic church.

With IT problems it’s always better to get three people instead of one telling you to power it off and on again.

This is an important film given its controversial subject matter. And the acting is all top-notch. Michael Keaton feels extremely comfortable in his role as the investigative journalist, delivering one of the most ‘goose-bumpy’ lines in the film (as seen in the trailer) – “Which story do you want us to write – because we’re writing one of them”. He must have been disappointed not to receive another Best Actor nomination for this. 

Keaton eyeing up McAdams in a film delightfully free of romantic entanglements

Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams both did get the nod for the Supporting Actor/Actress nominations: Ruffalo’s performance in particular is stellar, full of earnest passion. But it has to be said that all of the rest of the cast also more than pull their weight, with Liev Schrieber and John Slattery (as sub-editor Ben Bradlee) being very strong and the ever-reliable Stanley Tucci electrifying the screen as the dilligent but cranky lawyer Garabedian. As I write this, the Screen Actors Guild has just awarded “Spotlight” the award for the Best Ensemble Cast, and this is well deserved.

Ruffalo channelling Gruffalo – Rezendes getting very frustrated

The film looks great, with cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi (“The Grey”, “Silver Linings Playbook”) supported by fantastic lighting and superb editing (also Oscar nominated). It’s refreshing that the location filming in Boston doesn’t lean on the more ‘touristy’ shots normally depicted. The persistent and effective piano score is by Howard (“LOTR”) Shore. 

Spotlight 2
Mark Ruffalo with the real Mike Rezendes (C) The Boston Globe from a web article with other photos here

So, with all this going for it, I’m heading for a 5-Fad rating then? Well, actually, no. There is something distinctly missing in the film that was initially difficult to put my finger on. The film bears closest comparison with 1976’s Redford/Hoffman classic “All The President’s Men”. And whilst it does compare in some ways (a lot of indecipherable dialogue and a mass of different names being one!) there’s a key ingredient missing. While both stories were true, and you KNEW what the outcome was, “All The President’s Men” still managed to build up an incredible sense of tension of the “will they, won’t they” kind that is almost completely missing here. Not that the script doesn’t set up opportunities:  for example, will delays (caused by certain other newsworthy events happening in September of that year) allow “The Herald” to break the story first?  But no, the opportunity is squandered. A significant twist in the story (not spoiled here) around Keaton’s character is also let off like a damp squib on a rainy night. And where was the scene of ‘reaction’ from the church, led by Boston’s Cardinal Law (Len Cariou)?

The office meeting to clean desk policy was never going to end well.

So the two Oscar nominations I would most have issues with are Best Director (for actor/director Tom McCarthy) and Best Picture: undeniably it’s a good film, and you should go and see it, but in my eyes it was an opportunity missed – – it should have been an absolute classic.

Fad Rating:  FFFf.

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