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Friday, 26 February 2016

Spotlight

(M) ★★★★★

Director: Tom McCarthy.

Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian d'Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, Billy Crudup.

"Maths? Everyone knows journalists can't do maths."
SINCE 1976, the benchmark for films about journalism has been All The President’s Men.

That tightly scripted drama used strong dialogue, a healthy sense of realism, and great performances – shunning flashiness, contrivances or gimmicks – to tell the true tale of how two reporters helped bring down a president.

Spotlight deserves to be uttered in the same breath as All The President’s Men. It is an equally taut, thrilling and authentic depiction of the press uncovering gross abuses of power.

In this case it is the Catholic Church’s cover-up of widespread child sex abuse in the Boston area, as investigated and uncovered by a team of reporters at the Boston Globe in 2002.

Centring on the paper’s “Spotlight” investigative unit of three journalists and an editor, the film follows their attempts to pull on the thread of one lawyer’s claims that the church had been systematically covering up the heinous deeds of one paedophile priest, unravelling a real-life scandal that not only shook the city and its Catholic community but also shone a light on the actions of priests and church officials across America.


It’s a story that unfortunately resonates around the world, particularly in Australia, where Newcastle Herald journalist Joanne McCarthy’s own investigations helped trigger the ongoing royal commission into child sex abuse within the Catholic Church in this country.

Spotlight’s delivery does its subject matter justice. It’s a prime example of what some people may deride as a “people talking” movie, and as such it lives and dies by its cast and its dialogue, but there is nothing terminal here – just a gripping investigation that flourishes in the hands of its actors.

Ruffalo is the pick of the bunch, getting the best outburst in the script, but Keaton is not far behind as Spotlight department head Walter Robinson, a Boston native coming to terms with the malignant roots the Catholic Church has spread through his beloved city. An understated Schreiber is also good as incoming Globe editor Marty Baron, but there isn’t a bad turn to be found here – Oscar-nominated McAdams, Broadway regular James, and the always-brilliant Tucci are in fine form, while even the minor players are top-notch. Michael Cyril Creighton has a scene-stealing turn as an abuse survivor that is typical of the depth of talent on show here, but all are aided by a screenplay that creates well-rounded characters with ease.

Subtle direction from Tom McCarthy, matched by an equally subtle Howard Shore score, give the film a few necessary nudges, but Spotlight is a triumph of script, cast, and editing. The latter helps keep things ticking along, using the continual barriers and hurdles thrown in front of the journalists to help mount the tension, create surprises, and deliver an emotional punch at a slow-burning but satisfying pace.

Ultimately it succeeds because it puts the audience side-by-side with the reporters as they dig their way through a city that lives quite literally in the shadow of the Catholic Church, allowing us to share in the incredulity, disgust and frustration as the facts are presented. There is no need to dress anything up, and Spotlight largely works because it doesn’t try to do so.

Of the five Oscar nominees for best film that I’ve seen in the past 12 months, Spotlight is the most worthy winner.

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