Spotlight tells the true story of The Boston Globe and its Spotlight team, a unit of investigative journalists that’s looking into a case of child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests. The movie follows the team as they slowly uncover a story that gets bigger and bigger before their own eyes.
The movie works very well on different levels. First of all it’s informative, giving a down-to-earth account of what happened with the Spotlight team. I’m sure that creative liberties were taken with parts of the story, but the broad strokes are definitely in line with the real events. Then there’s the dramatic side; despite being so understated, the movie is incredibly engaging. The story is told with such tight control over the pacing, the dialogue and the action happening on screen that it always leaves you wanting to know what happens next. Spotlight takes the best elements from documentaries, dramas and thrillers and mixes them into a beautiful piece of art.
However, perhaps the most surprising is that Spotlight packs a real emotional punch. The choice to tell the story from the point of view of the journalist team – instead of that of the victims – is an ingenious one. It creates some emotional distance between the subject and the viewer, allowing the movie to suggest more emotion than it actually depicts. So when emotions do hit the surface of the screen – like in an amazingly well-acted outburst by Mark Ruffalo’s character – it hits home tenfold because you believe that the emotions are really there. Traditional tearjerkers rarely work for me because their aim to make you cry is so painfully obvious. Spotlight does the opposite; it never seems to want to shock, dramatize or evoke emotions, yet it manages to do all three.
Spotlight’s cinematography, lighting, musical score and visual style are all subservient to its story. They’re serviceable in the best possible way. You won’t notice its editing once unless you’re explicitly paying attention to it. In this sense, Spotlight is a very “classical” movie, one that would be called Oscar-bait by some. For me, its normalcy is what keeps the movie grounded in the midst of this increasingly bizarre story. The whole experience of Spotlight is designed to make you feel like what you’re watching is actually happening, to make you see the story through the eyes of the reporters.
All of this makes the movie incredibly engaging, but it also makes you aware of the role that these reporters had in the unveiling of the child abuse scandal. It’s not just a story; it’s a convincing account of the value of thorough, tenacious journalism.
Written by: Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy
Directed by: Tom McCarthy