What makes ‘Spotlight’ special is how surprisingly restrained it is. It’s genius is in its subtlety. It doesn’t draw attention to itself. It lacks any real over the top moment for any actor or filmmaker to show off. And it’s not really ‘about’ any of its characters, despite an amazing cast.
What ‘Spotlight’ is about is a team of dedicated journalists uncovering an increasingly bigger abuse scandal within the Catholic church and, moreover, the overwhelming scale of the church’s attempt to cover it up. It is an underdog story of a small group of people, armed with no more than notepads, going up against one of the largest religious institutions in the world. There is more at stake here than ‘a good story’, and it is difficult not to be affected by the film’s deeper, disturbing themes. But ‘Spotlight’ does not shy away from the reality of its subject matter anymore than its characters do.
While none of them could really be called the leads, every performance in the film is outstanding, to the point that it is impossible to pick which one is best. Mark Ruffalo probably has the most screen time, barely, and his portrayal of Michael Rezendes is expertly understated, but Michael Keaton is equally as crucial in selling the effectiveness of his team. Rachel McAdams hasn’t had enough said about her performance but that’s because it is so perfect that it’s easy to forget she’s acting and not actually the real Sacha Pfeiffer. John Slattery, Liev Schreiber and Brian d’Arcy James complete the Spotlight team with the excellent professional chemistry that is required of them. The relationships between each of these characters feel genuine from the way they interact with each other and not just from what they say. This is also largely thanks to an excellent script that never outstays its welcome, giving everyone a role without unnecessary exposition and every line of dialogue a purpose for being there.
Finally, it needs to be said how important Tom McCarthy’s direction is to this film. It’s uniform restraint could not have been possible without his obvious determination to tell a very important story simply how it happened, without fanfare, without drawing attention to its own construction. The colour palette is bland. The actors’ performances are reined in. The cinematography and editing are to-the-point. The score is subtle. It is the story that speaks and it is the story that needs to be told, that needs to be remembered when the audience exits the theatre. ‘Spotlight’ is supposed to make you uncomfortable and succeeds each time it does.
All told, ‘Spotlight’ is a masterpiece of filmmaking without trying to be. It is a pure, no-frills journalistic thriller with a powerful message and an even more powerful heart. It needs to be seen. By everyone.