Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around the dark. Suddenly, a light gets turned on and there’s a fair share of blame to go around. I can’t speak to what happened before I arrived, but all of you have done some very good reporting here. Reporting that I believe is going to have an immediate and considerable impact on our readers. For me, this kind of story is why we do this.
– Marty Baron, Spotlight
Spotlight is an illuminating experience, both in the story being told and the way it is realised. It is a film of stunning simplicity which portrays the complex journalistic process needed to expose one of the greatest and deepest scandals of the modern era. In this way, Spotlight is not just one of the best films of 2016; it’s one of the most important too.
The scandal itself – sexual abuse and subsequent cover-ups by the Catholic Church – is universally known, thanks in large part to the work seen onscreen. Spotlight is not, really, about this scandal. Instead of focusing on the Whats?, Spotlight is genuinely more concerned with the Hows?. How did a small team of journalists, on The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team of investigators, break this massive story? How do you go about verifying sources in such a situation? How do you live in the city knowing what you now know?
The details of the abuses of children and power are of course included, but as seen from the reporters’ point of view and as it fits for their journey. To learn more about the story itself, go and read the source material. Spotlight is an Oscar-winning adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning feat of investigative journalism, filled to burst with award winners and nominees. Naturally the screenplay had to be top-notch (in fact, Josh Singer’s screenplay featured in 2013’s Blacklist of most-liked unmade scripts), with popping dialogue and a deep-rooted sense of purpose to enliven potentially uncinematic sequences without jazzing them up. So our journalists still sift through diocese records and file for documents in a courthouse, but it is a thrilling watch, not a boring one.
Spotlight’s score – composed by the great Howard Shore – is a masterpiece in holding together themes in an elegantly simple soundtrack. It’s a stripped-back ensemble, as if the music is trying to get to the bottom of the facts at hand, with a sense of urgency and momentum driving it from track to track, as the reporters move forward and carry the weight of their story with them. It’s sombre – this is the Catholic Church they are investigating – and moves towards a muted excitement as printing day approaches.
But enough about all that. The crux of Spotlight is its cast. A true ensemble piece, Spotlight is filled with performances which shine individually but each work for the benefit of the whole and to emphasise the teamwork needed to work this case. The real-life journalists being portrayed have sung the praises of their actor counterparts, for capturing their likenesses and behaviours but also for conveying how they worked together in an accurate way.
Michael Keaton, hot off Birdman at this point, leads the team and is the closest we have to a lead. He embodies Catholic Guilt, as a well-connected and respected Bostonian grappling with the twisted reality he has managed to overlook for so many years. This is a restrained Keaton, with nothing zany to work with. For that, in part, we turn to Man of the Millennium, Mark Ruffalo. That Ruffalo was nominated as Supporting Actor falls foul of awards politicking, and belies the ensemble nature and Ruffalo’s major role in this. His place is twofold, as the doggedly determined investigator, often tasked with cracking the hardest nuts, and as the emotionally invested voice of anger and frustration for an audience who is on his side. His is a memorable performance, one that sticks with you almost as long as the facts they uncover. Equally memorable are the interviews conducted by Rachel McAdams, whose mission to interview both abused and abusers can be an uncomfortable watch, but she confronts it with resilience and integrity.
And let us not forget Brian d’Arcy James, as he has so often not been remembered. The fourth horseman, James has some of the most emotionally charged scenes. He may not be interacting with the potentially corrupted clergy or the weaselly attorneys who struck deals to keep misdeeds secret, but his journey strikes the deepest chord. His conflict between professional and personal life, keeping the investigation private whilst coming to terms with how these new facts spill into his family and community, is brilliantly played.
Outside of the Spotlight team itself there are a great many powerful and impressive performances, two in particular standing out. Stanley Tucci makes any film better simply by being there, but in this case he knocks it out of the park. As the eccentric, overworked lawyer representing the abuse victims and their families, his is a deeply layered character whose difficult exterior masks the difficulties he is facing internally. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Liev Schreiber. Marty Baron, then editor of The Boston Globe, has long been a journalistic pin-up, and Schreiber’s portrayal of Baron will certainly help to widen his appeal. Every movement he makes, every word he speaks matters and is deliberate. He may not be in the film much, but when he is he becomes the gravitational centre and voice of intelligent reason.
The lede of this article is a quote from Baron (the character, at least) which perfectly encapsulates the importance of Spotlight. These are the journalists who turned on the light and, through their determination and the power of their words, showed the world a horrible truth. Their reporting had an immediate and considerable impact as the story gained international awareness. Now, through the film, the story behind the story is being told for the same global audience. We knew about the abuse, but not how it was uncovered. This kind of journalism is why we need newspapers like The Boston Globe and, for me, this kind of story is why we need films like Spotlight.
So to recap, here’s our Top 20 to 3…
N.B. As our site is UK based, we work off the selection of films released in cinemas in the UK in 2016
20 – The Witch
19 = Son of Saul
19 = The Hateful Eight
18 – Midnight Special
17 – American Honey
16 = Embrace of the Serpent
16 = Captain America: Civil War
15 – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
14 – Creed
13 – Hail, Caesar!
12 – The Revenant
11 – Weiner
10 – Everybody Wants Some!!
9 – Zootropolis
8 – Anomalisa
7 – Paterson
6 – The Neon Demon
5 – The Nice Guys
4 – Room
3 – Spotlight
Stay tuned each and every day for the remainder of 2016 to read more on our Top 10 films of 2016!