TELLURIDE FILM FEST
Telluride 2015: Tom McCarthy's 'Spotlight' is a Riveting Investigation
by Alex Billington
September 6, 2015
Whether all of modern society has accepted it yet or not, we are living in the age of whistleblowers, lead by the likes of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. Tom McCarthy's new film Spotlight is another great reminder of the power of people who speak out, who speak up, when everyone else won't. The film profiles the Boston Globe's intensive investigation into systemic rape in the Catholic Church, which they uncovered and confirmed through multiple sources, and published in multiple shocking articles throughout 2002. The film starts slow, but builds to immensity throughout the investigation, resulting in a riveting look at the power of hard-working journalists who won't let a story go no matter how much resistance they receive.
At its core, Spotlight is driven by incredible performances: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci. The performances are vitally important because we're meant to believe and understand these people and their motivations without any second guessing. Mostly because there isn't time to second guess. The film moves at a swift pace with a script that forces the audience to constantly be on their toes, with scenes moving in rapid succession and hardly a moment to catch your breath or figure out who's who. But it's that pacing that makes this work so well, because it's such a complex story (they're investigating) with many major players, every move they make may evoke an adverse reaction.
I have always greatly admired Mark Ruffalo, and he seems to be getting better and better. There is one scene in this movie, where he is just full of emotion, passionately making his case. It rocked me to my core, and left me floored. I nearly teared up, and that's very rare (the last time that happened was the first time I saw the Tony-winning Broadway play "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time"). This is just one example of the power of a great performance. And the film, in the end, is a great reminder of the power of investigative journalism and people who still keep talking when they're told to shut up. We see how much they have to keep fighting, and persisting, even against people who tell them to look elsewhere and move on.
As much as I enjoyed watching the film and getting caught up in following the story as they investigate it, it seemed to still lack some style that would've made it perfect. I believe this comes down to Tom McCarthy, a very skilled and competent director (his other films The Visitor and Win Win are also great), but he's best at telling the story and getting great performances, not really stylizing the work. Most of the shots are sleek, occasionally (seemingly) inspired by Birdman following characters in and out of rooms, but it's also not Emmanuel Lubezki behind the camera. I'm only trying to say that this is just so close to being one of the best films of the year, and if I have to analyze what seemed to be holding it back, that's it. Not much else.
That said, Spotlight is still an excellent film. And although the real story in it took place over 10 years ago, thus it already made its impact on our culture, there's something invigorating about seeing them uncover this in 2015. There's a message in it about how everyone always finds it easier to, collectively, look the other way and ignore a problem. And how important it is that someone, a few people, anyone, must stand up and resist and must speak out no matter what, they must seek the truth. This is how we're able to progress as a society, through determination and gumption. Hopefully the film will continue to encourage those ideals.
Alex's Telluride Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing