Spotlight is a true story about a small team of journalists working for the Spotlight column in the Boston Globe newspaper who exposed the cover-up of widespread sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. This is a film which was highly praised when it was released and it also won a few awards, but it seems to me that the critics and voters were giving this film a high rating simply because of the subject matter, if this was any other movie I don’t think it would have received so many accolades. Let me just say that Spotlight isn’t a bad film, it’s well written and well acted, but rather than being a landmark expose like the article it’s based upon, it instead comes across as a Sunday-evening television drama.
The film is laid out chronologically and focusses on the journalists and their investigation, the viewer is taken on a sleuthing journey with all the members of the Spotlight team. This sifting through evidence is the kind of thing that should be tense and thrilling but it unfortunately comes off as quite sedate and undemanding, and for a story that centres around a child-molestation scandal this is completely the wrong style. Yes the subject matter should have been handled in a sombre way, but the uncovering of clues should also be nail-biting. Spotlight takes a potentially shocking plot and makes it seem uneventful, this is a film which could and should have been riveting but it falls short of being an all-out thriller, this really isn’t the gripping, detective-work-filled movie it was described as when it was first released.
It seems to me that the film-makers have assumed that their movie will automatically leave film-goers impressed and distraught, simply because of the important and distressing subject matter, but unfortunately in the case of Spotlight you don’t feel too much emotion because the film itself doesn’t present us with any. Scenes like the journalist Michael Rezendes discovering that some of the evidence has been filed in another case (and therefore isn’t sealed and is open to the public) should have been filled with anticipation and even excitement, but alas it was just another scene. And this brings me to the direction. Tom McCarthy, the director seems to have gone for a point and shoot aesthetic; there’s no complicated shots, there’s no tinkering with linear time, and that’s fine, but there’s no mood or atmosphere either, in fact there’s not much of anything. For me the direction is almost non-existent, it’s like McCarthy isn’t even there. This could have been a thrill ride, it could have been another “All The President’s Men” or “Zodiac” but instead it’s like watching an Odyssey true story, like something aired on the True Movies channel.
The score is also pretty weak, in fact the monotony of the piano track gets old very quickly, the entire soundtrack sounds like an easy-listening, wannabe George Winston melody playing continuously in the background regardless of what’s taking place on screen. Because of this, pivotal scenes are turned into plodding ones, and this dull piano sound is again something which feels more at home in a TV movie rather than in a cinematic feature. Certain scenes such as the journalist Sacha Pfeiffer getting a surprise doorstep confession from an ex-priest, if it had been accompanied by better, more weightier music could have been shocking, but instead this again is just another scene. Thanks to the stagnant score, nothing stands out and no particular part of the movie is raised to heart-pounding from the steady pulse the film-makers seem to prefer. I can’t believe that the great Howard Shore (Scanners, Silence Of The Lambs, Seven) was responsible for this repetitious and disappointing musical accompaniment.
Thankfully, the actors in Spotlight are better than the direction and the music, Mark Ruffalo in particular gives a great performance but then again he always does, and unless he’s playing Hulk he is one of the most reliable, likeable, and watchable actors out there. Other actors too such as Michael Keaton and Liev Schreiber give decent performances but for me the best acting comes from the peripheral characters such as the victims, especially Jimmy LeBlanc. But despite these fantastic supporting performances, similar to Devil’s Knot, all the hard work by the cast can’t make a film which is essentially average into something better.
Taking into account the skilful acting, I assume the director and producers thought that the acting and the plot alone would be enough to carry the film, but regardless of the fine work from the cast and the saddening storyline, in the case of Spotlight this isn’t enough, and although they’re great, the actors can only do so much. With the understated direction coupled with the same-same score, it makes a potentially brilliant film feel quite basic. I recall critics and reviewers calling Spotlight a “grown-up film” which sometimes can be a synonym for “boring” or “dull”. In the case of Spotlight, calling it a “grown-up film” simply refers to the subject matter because you can’t say too much about the lacklustre direction, the slow pace, or the bland and stagnant tone. Yes this film is worth watching, yes it’s somewhat engaging, but overall it’s an average movie, it’s far from being a total disappointment but it could have been so much better.
Not Quite In The Spotlight.