Film Review – Spotlight (2015): Jordan’s Take

Spotlight movie 2015


Directed by Tom McCarthy

Starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci

Review by Jordan (for Eddie’s take click here)

A film such as Spotlight is decidedly tricky to critique, as in a similar manner to documentaries you’re drawn to discussing the subject matter post viewing and not the vehicle itself.

One could argue that even a poorly made documentary can inspire thought if the topic is interesting enough, so does the fact that this drama, about the unspeakable acts perpetrated by the Catholic Church, will ignite strong emotions in its viewers mean that in direct relation to this it’s well made? Or in this case is the topic, being one that thoroughly deserves exposure, of enough interest to people that they will overlook the crafting and production of a movie that of itself is not exceptional?

Nominated for Best Picture at the 2016 Academy Awards, Spotlight is a good film, purposefully directed by Tom McCarthy (whose 2014 effort The Cobbler now seems a distant memory) and well cast in all roles. It showcases the investigative unit at The Boston Globe in an insightful manner, and is most impressive when it focusses on the emotional toll and subsequent second burst of motivation the escalating case has on the seasoned band of journalists. Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton are particularly impressive in their roles, as their characters are given the most scope and a shared tension arises at a pivotal moment.

The script moves at a breakneck pace, and this is where the issues begin arising. Being a narrative wholly reliant on conversations, confessions and characters, it can be difficult if essential information is provided in a passing utterance and missed among every word crammed into the sentence; one particular recurring, and important character was introduced at a time when I was still reflecting on the understated, powerful opening, and I spent a good deal of time then figuring out his role and relationship with others. This style makes absolute sense here, but it is no coincidence that the occasional quiet, personal moments were the most memorable and more of them would’ve been welcomed.

There are times too when the writing uncovers the most basic of flaws, such as in a scene where Cardinal Law is discussing his preference for the Church and newspaper to work together for the good of the community with new editor Marty Baron, and just as they’ve each shared their opposing thoughts and an awkward silence is sure to follow, a secretary knocks to push the scene, and dialogue, along. It’s not unreasonable to notice these often employed techniques, as they show that some films will be recognised for what they present, others for their precision craftsmanship where the viewer is too entrenched to have their focus broken, and the very best for both.

Spotlight will get people talking, and as it comes to a close in an eye opening pre-credits sequence its clear thats it’s intention, but when you witness all the committed talent on display it’s clear that although whats produced is important, the subsequent potential has not fully been reached.

3.5 very busy lawyers out of 5

17 responses to “Film Review – Spotlight (2015): Jordan’s Take

  1. “A film such as Spotlight is decidedly tricky to critique, as in a similar manner to documentaries you’re drawn to discussing the subject matter post viewing and not the vehicle itself.”

    Thank you. This is the problem I encounter again and again when discussing either Oscar bait dramas or documentaries that cover “important” or controversial subject matter, usually about human rights abuses or demographic oppression. No one’s denying that the material is important, but I stand by my statement that we have to analyze these films *as films first* if we are to write good reviews of film craft and analysis.

    I did not hate this film. However, I would have a hard time recommending it to another person on the basis of its, well, filmmaking.

    • Well said. Perhaps I liked Spotlight more than you, as I think it’s still a good film on its own merits, but its too easy to see these titles as better than they are based on the impact of the subject matter. There is an interest here in seeing the inner workings of investigative journalism also.
      Cheers, Jordan

  2. I think you liked Spotlight more than me, but completely agree that the severity of the subject matter seems to makes this movie “important” to people more so than the actual quality of the film.

      • Ah you think so? Of the nominees I’ve seen, The Revenant and Brooklyn are my two favorites. (Spotlight, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Big Short should not have been nominated for Best Picture though, IMO.)

      • I really liked The Revenent personally, but only for the revenge and man vs nature elements; the artistic elements and family ties I thought were mishandled. A great film but being Australian I’m backing Fury Road all the way! It would be a brave selection, that’s for sure.

  3. Nice review. I agree that the film spends much of it’s time tracking the story itself but does not allow any room for character insight. The story is so powerful however that it still makes a gripping watch.

    • I really liked the moments where Mike and Walter couldn’t hold back their anger and disbelief at the enormity of what they’d uncovered; that’s where the connection lay from a storytelling perspective with the audience and I wish there was more of it. Although of course I can understand that it wasn’t the film’s intention.
      Thanks, Jordan

  4. That is interesting that you mention a scene where an uncomfortable silence seemed likely but something else happens to keep the dialogue going. Interesting..

    I’ll definitely see this, but the main reason is like you stated at the start – its an infinitely interesting story. I was raised Catholic and went to an all-boys Catholic school that had pedophiles running around unchecked, so this is an all-too-interesting story for me

  5. Still my favorite film of 2015 and the only 5 star review I gave all year. I just loved everything about it. I found it to be the perfect ensemble piece with every performer working for the story and not themselves. I was also blown away by the impeccable pacing. It sucked me in from the start and I was glued throughout. But I guess I’m rambling…

    • Ramble away man, always happy to hear when someone’s thoroughly enjoyed a movie! Will be interesting to see how it goes at the Oscars, especially in the acting dept. Rufallo could just nab it.

  6. Pingback: 2016 Oscars: J and E’s Overview and Final Predictions | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

  7. Pingback: Film Review – Spotlight (2015): Eddie’s Take | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

  8. It’s nice to read a review that looks past the subject matter and examines the film itself, which is admittedly hard for something this powerful. I think the cast sold what was a solid but not brilliant film. McCarthy’s skill with his actors is evident, but I found some of his choices with the script (“freaking” in an R rated film?) and direction (not sure if I’ve ever seen a more stationary camera) a little lacking.
    And I totally agree with you on Fury Road – by far the best directed of any of the nominees. George Miller was robbed.

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