Spotlight (2016) (Review)

When The Boston Globe's Spotlight team investigate the systematic child sex abuse by Roman Catholic Priests in the Boston area, the scale and extent of their findings is beyond that comprehendible. Directed by Tom McCarthy and starring an ensemble cast featuring the talents of Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams, the biographical drama film has earned critical acclaim and multiple awards, including six nomination at the Academy Awards - but just how does it stack up?

The Pulitzer Prize-Winning investigation tells the real-life discovery of the child sex scandal that was committed by, and later hidden by members of the Catholic Church. Overseen by their new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfeffier (Rachel McAdams) and Ben Bradlee Jr (John Slattery) use their journalist integrity, determination and expertise to expose the systematic violation carried out by a number of priests in the strictly Catholic area of Boston, becoming a proselyte to the greater good, all having been involved with the religion they must scrutinise. Facing multiple barriers in their journey to publicise the scandal, the Spotlight team do everything in their power to bring a voice to the hundreds of victims of this systematic silencing.

Where it could very easily be over exaggerated and become a hyperbolical entity, Spotlight is wise enough to know that the shocking events and subject matter are enough to carry across the films 128 minute runtime, successfully avoiding unnecessary dramatic liberties that would have otherwise undercut the true emotion and response the film elicits. It is thanks to the exceptional cast, solid script and controlled direction from McCarthy that Spotlight is consistent in tone and intensity, rarely veering into areas of explosive and volatile nature that would likely be tempting for a film so aligned as Oscar-bait, realising that the narrative and the true events that shape the film are enough to do that alone. The cast play these often understated individuals with control and poise, particularly Rachel McAdams, who - despite lacking any sensationalised moments - performs with decorum and subtly that is never the melodramatic mess it could become under a different actress. One scene where the realisation of what one of Priests who acted out sexually is actually saying to her is executed with such delicacy and composure that it alone warrants her nomination as Best Supporting Actress at the upcoming Oscars. It's arguably more difficult for an actor to find a balance in these instances, but the five leads do so with such simplicity that you can only commend them for the belief in their performance.

Without question and as previously discussed, the biggest accomplishment of this film is its dedication to realism. It never lionises or rationalises the journalist involved, and whom put everything on the line to convey their shocking finds, treating them - and therefore the audience - with the respect the story deserves, and the grounding that caused for the discovery in the first place; none of these individuals went out to find this scenario, nor do they use it for their own personal gain or appeasement, instead dedicated and motivated by their moral-compass and reasoning to do right by the victims of this haunting tale. It never dramatises the events, or becomes self-indulgent to the pyrrhic victory and outcome of the ordeal, instead electing to illustrate it in the most humane way possible. Even as the film scales up in the impact and scope of the situation - from a handful of bad individuals to that of a corrupt system - it remains constructed from a place of doing just and doing right by those affected by the story, offering a factual and cerebral translation of the story - a trait and action that deserves our admiration and respect. 

While the film does have its faults - on occasions, one may feel that more character depth to these individuals dedicating every waking moment to unveil the unscrupulous system is needed - you can understand McCarthy's take, faithfulness and direction to delineate the story opposed to act as a platform and appraisal to the journalists behind the story. At times frustrating for not opening the scope further - seeing outside the Boston Globe the reactions and response to the building expose - it is difficult to feel callous towards a film that remains so intent on being earnest and concentrated on its difficult and unflinching subject matter.

Never melodramatic and much like its titular purpose, Spotlight is clear and focused, possessing the ability to grab you and absorb you into the investigation with such heart and magnetism that you are rarely off the edge of your seat, despite a more subtle approach and direction from the director. Almost to a fault, the film handles its characters and subject matter in such a humane and compassionate way which is excellent demonstrated by a stellar cast. Even when the credits roll and the lights come up, you are still captivated by the matter and engaged with the story - in fact, those final title cards are an image that will stay with me long after the cinema visit is over. At the moment, it is in my frontrunner for Best Picture...

Summary: Spotlight is captivating for its grounded take on the real life investigative work performed by selfless individuals, which is in turn demonstrated by a cast who never lionise and instead approach with subtly and poise for Oscar-worthy performances.

Highlight: In a film this 'dark', highlight is probably the incorrect word, but the scene that stands out is the montage sequence with a chilling 'Silent Night' playing over the top. That, and the power of the final title cards.

(REVISED - 8.5/10)
(ORIGINAL - 8/10)