For 2016 I’ve given myself a weekly challenge: watch a film that I’ve never seen before. That’s it. One film, each week. No restrictions on age, genre, or theme.
PLEASE BE AWARE THAT MY DISCUSSION OF THESE FILMS WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS.
TL;DR: I’ve just made your weekend plans for you.
There is no such thing as an objective film review. And I’m not sure “review” is an accurate description of the way this blog discusses films. I’m not interested in recommending or valuing movies so much as I’m tugging on the tangle of thoughts that watching a new movie spins in my brain. So, to start my “review” of Spotlight, a declaration of bias:
Stories about journalism get under my skin.
There’s several reasons for this, chiefly: I’m the daughter and the wife of journalists in a culture that increasingly devalues their work; and (perhaps related) very few fictional depictions get the practice of journalism right. Much like teaching, journalism is assumed to be a labor of love that doesn’t require fair compensation to attract fresh talent (TV is the occasional exception, because your face can be more valuable than the quality of your content). It’s an unsexy job that involves lots of waiting, lots of routine visits to the courthouse, lots of dead ends. You spend much more time than you ever thought possible talking about the weather, car accidents, and taxes.
Spotlight opens in the cinderblock stairwells and file-filled cubicles of The Boston Globe, 2001. (The chipping paint and poorly-lit basements are dead-on representations of the newspaper offices I’ve haunted.) Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), the new editor-in-chief, notices a brief column about multiple sexual abuse allegations against the same priest and asks the investigative team, Spotlight, to dig a little deeper.
Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) objects to what he fears will become a policy of editorial meddling: “Generally Spotlight has been successful because we’re given the freedom to choose our own projects.”
Baron, with insistent tact, pushes back: “Well, would you consider choosing this one?”
And so begins the months-long investigation that exposed systemic child abuse within Boston’s Catholic Church, and the examination of a type of journalism that’s almost extinct in the soundbite age. There’s no caricatures here of cigar-chomping rabble-rousers who lack the social graces needed to cultivate sources. Mark Ruffalo spends a lot of time running, but it’s mostly to, from, or inside the courthouse. Direction, cinematography, and sly screenwriting tricks step out of the way of a cast of unpretentious performances (led by Keaton, Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Bryan d’Arcy James as the Spotlight team). Everyone involved in the telling subsumed their egos to the story – which is nothing more or less than good journalistic practice.