Reviewed by Mason Manuel
In the wake of the recent Best Picture win at the Oscars, I was remiss that I had never seen Spotlight. Popping it in a week later, I was expecting to experience the same amount of exhilaration that I had with the other candidates. Starring an impressive cast and crew while tackling a very controversial issue, Spotlight has everything working for it. But while the performances and story are decent and moving at times, a film of the ages this is not. Though assuredly interesting and even anger inducing, Spotlight does not deserve Best Picture. That’s not to say it’s a bad film though.
Taking place in Boston in the middle of the early 2000s, a group of reporters for The Boston Globe (A.K.A. the “Spotlight” team) get a whiff of a large scandal happening within the Catholic Church resulting in molested children. However, they are hesitant to go after the church until their new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) comes in and softhandedly demands that they investigate. Catholicism is very prominent in Boston and the Spotlight team is justifiably worried that this will paint a target on their back but they go ahead with the story anyway. The team finds themselves not only opposed by the church but by the community as well. Nevertheless they press on to uncover one of the largest scandals in history.
The team is made up of Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and others whose names you won’t remember. To their credit the cast gives some of the best acting of their collective lives while slowly uncovering that the city they know and love has been hiding such a dark secret. Boston is a character in and of itself from the shiny urban areas in the financial district to the urban decay as the camera takes us farther from the city’s shiny center. Bu despite the actors putting forth their best (especially Ruffalo), the material they deliver gets increasingly dull as time goes on. The uncovering of this scandal was huge and had networks and people talking for years but the movie just has scene after scene of people simply standing still and talking in classroom like environments. I get that journalism is mostly just that; asking questions and trading information with fellow journalists, but a film requires more to keep the proceedings entertaining and Spotlight fails to do so.
Though our journalists are definitely warriors of truth they never come off as idolized. None of them are perfect, everyone has a flaw or a lapse of judgment that makes them feel legitimately human. There were times where these people would be fighting so hard for the truth and I had to ask myself if they were doing it for the children in danger or because they simply wanted a good story that would make headlines. Some of these faults are larger than others and there is even a huge twist at the end that is continuously hinted at that I did not even see until it was revealed. There is a delightfully slow burn here with some of the topics that make the reveal so fulfilling, but there are times where it could have moved SO much faster.
Spotlight is a good film. It just was not the best film of 2016 and that bothers me. I get that Best Picture winners normally tackle large political or sociological issues with grace which Spotlight wholeheartedly did, but in terms of film production and overall execution it stays simply above average. It’s an excellent film that is worth the watch – just don’t expect me to get over the Mad Max: Fury Road loss any time soon. RDR gives Spotlight a 7.8 out of 10.