It is difficult to find anything new to say about “Spotlight”, which has received much praise already. The film picked up numerous prizes, including Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture at the 2016 Academy Awards. The actors were honored with the Best Ensemble Cast award from the Screen Actors Guild, and the list goes on. It is a well-crafted piece of filmmaking. There is one attribute, above others, that makes the film work for me.
“Spotlight” opens with a short prologue set in 1976, but the main body of the film takes place in 2001. Although cell phones and computers were already ubiquitous, the narrative is driven forward largely without the use of these devices. Communication between characters takes place face-to-face, which is inherently more cinematic. There is an ex-priest whom the journalists never meet, and only converse with over the phone. In these scenes, however, the informant is put on speaker phone. This allows the actors on-screen to move within the frame and be visually interesting.
The story is set in motion when “The Boston Globe” newspaper hires a new editor, Marty Baron (Live Schreiber). Baron is interested in the Father Geoghan case, in which a Catholic priest is accused of sexually molesting 80 children. Baron assigns the Spotlight team, a group of investigative reporters, to examine the facts in-depth. The Spotlight team begins speaking to victims and Phil Saviano (Neal Huff) from SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests). What they discover is not only an incredible number of victims, but also a cover-up conducted by the church hierarchy, the police, and the courts.
Writers Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, with McCarthy also directing, maintain an element of suspense throughout. They accomplish this by keeping a laser focus on the investigation, and not getting sidetracked by exploring the personal lives of the Spotlight team. Although the movie does not sensationalize the subject matter, it does not shy away from the disturbing facts. There are two characters in the film who tell their stories of sexual molestation with explicit language. The word rape, which the victimizers assiduously avoid, is also used by Phil Saviano and reporter Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams).
The cast works as a true ensemble, with no one player dominating the film. Mark Ruffalo, as reporter Mike Rezendes, is the sole actor given a scene in which to vent his anger at the system. Michael Keaton, as Spotlight editor Walter Robinson, keeps himself in check and delivers a completely believable performance. Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup, as the attorneys with contrasting styles, are also convincing.
“Spotlight” has been called an important film because of its subject matter. Subject matter alone, though, does not determine the value of a film. The makers of “Spotlight” do something that is increasingly rare in mainstream American film: they assume the audience is intelligent.
“Spotlight” was originally released in 2015. The film is rated R for language that includes explicit sexual content. I watched the DVD at my own expense.