Spotlight

Spotlight is a 2015 American biographical drama film directed by Tom McCarthy and written by McCarthy and Josh Singer. The film tells the true story of the Spotlight team, a team of investigative reporters working for the Boston Globe. Spotlight is the oldest continuously operating investigative journalism unit in the United States. The film sports an impressive ensemble cast of Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schriber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, and Billy Crudup.

Due to the sensitive nature of investigative journalism, the team’s projects are kept secret from everyone, including most at the Globe, and the identities of the reporters working for Spotlight are kept secret from the general public. The Spotlight team has near autonomy to operate, investigate, and write their stories. The Globe hires a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schriber) in early 2001. Marty, originally hailing from Miami, finds his transition to the Boston Globe to be somewhat awkward and jarring. (He knows no one, is not a sports fan, and is Jewish, in contrast to the overwhelming Roman Catholic population) He treats his new coworkers with respect and dignity, and although Marty’s transition is weird for them too, they return the sentiment. “The Baron” asks Spotlight head Walter “Robby” Robinson to investigate claims that Cardinal Law knew that Father John Geoghan was sexually abusing children and did nothing to stop it. This request is met with incredulity by the Spotlight team and the legal team of the Globe, because requesting to see documents relating to Geoghan will make it look like the Globe is suing the Catholic Church. The Spotlight team does some digging regardless, and end up discovering something truly disturbing.

Spotlight won several awards this season, including the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. I believe it is a great film and deserves those two awards unequivocally. I loved this film, but it also may not be for you. Like the story and the people on which the film is based, Spotlight, with the exception of an opening sequence that may or may not have been fictionalized, presents facts. This drama is not a Shakespearean one. It is extremely realistic. The dialogue in this film is simply the most realistic I have ever seen put to film. In most movies, the dialogue is not meant to be realistic, it is meant to be dramatic, powerful, meaningful, and above all, expressionistic rather than realistic. In Spotlight, however, there’s little of that. Every sentence, every word spoken sounds like someone actually said it in real life, which possibly might be true. Seeing as the events upon which the story is based occurred in 2001, maybe McCarthy was able to get his hands on recordings and phone calls, and he most definitely spoke to the real-life figures in preparation for this movie.

Mark Ruffalo, who portrays reporter Mike Rezendes, who also ended up writing the expose, gives the best performance of his career, with no exaggeration. Ruffalo was nominated for, but unfortunately did not win, Best Supporting Actor. Rachel McAdams, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, portrays Sacha Pfieffer. McAdams is by no means bad in this role, but in a film with little to no weak links, in my opinion, McAdams’ portrayal of Pfieffer is simply OK, and when acting against great performances by Ruffalo and Michael Keaton, that makes her the weakest link in the film, and I was surprised to see her nominated.

I couldn’t find many substantial clips to explain what I mean by realistic acting, but I think you get the idea. I know a lot of these movies can be slow paced at points, and therefore boring to a mainstream audience, but I can say that I wasn’t bored for a minute in this movie. It’s not a Bourne movie, I wasn’t on the edge of my seat. There’s no kung fu, no gunfights, and it’s not particularly suspenseful, but it is as interesting and engrossing as Civil War, obviously for completely different reasons.

I must admit I may be a little biased, because the type of journalism depicted in Spotlight is what I want to do. I’m not trying to be overdramatic and am being completely honest when I say that this film and the true story it depicts are what stopped me from switching my major. Journalism is meant to be about the people, about facts, about the spread of information that needs to be known. It seems that no one cares anymore. Information actually relevant today comes from official press releases or data dumps by concerned citizens, or worse, cyber vigilantes. I live in a world where a site like Buzzfeed can and does qualify as journalism. That is disappointing to me. So disappointing that I didn’t want to pursue journalism as a career if this site is legitimate and popular. The things that do seem relevant once in a while that come from journalists? Most of the time, it’s sensationalist clickbait. Though I’m still very much disillusioned, this film and other stories like this and the Watergate Scandal as depicted in All The President’s Men in 1976 reminded me that the news can be relevant if and when it wants to be.

Spotlight is a engrossing, flawlessly-acted dramatization of a fascinating true story about the power of journalism. Even if you are one who may not end up enjoying the film as much as I did, the film should, at the very least, be appreciated for bringing The Boston Globe’s work to light.

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