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In Review: Spotlight

In Review: Spotlight

Spotlight, currently screening at the Perth Playhouse, is the latest effort from celebrated indie director Tom McCarthy. With an all-star cast and weighty true subject matter, it’s the kind of story that is usually accompanied by talk of Oscar wins. Fortunately, the film is more than deserving of such accolades.

Based on the true story of the Boston Globe journalists who revealed a mass cover-up of child sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church, Spotlight focuses on the eponymous team headed by Walter ‘Robbie’ Robertson (Michael Keaton). Their work, in-depth investigative reporting on a variety of issues, is slow, excruciatingly detailed and at odds with the evolution of the industry as ad revenues fall and the internet begins to dominate. Put on the case by their new editor Marty Baron (Live Schreiber), the foursome’s digging leads to revelations they’re entirely unprepared for, as the full extent of the Church’s abuse of power becomes evident.

With such a sensitive central topic and a focus on talking over action, Spotlight could have been a real slog, yet it’s such a tightly constructed film, both in terms of plot and pace, that it never slides into boredom. Scenes of journalists gathered around phones or knocking on doors to interview sources carry real weight and thrill.

The true genius of the film comes in its restraint. Where other films may have turned up the dramatics for a good Oscar clip friendly shouting scene, or a fabricated showdown between journalists and the Church, Spotlight keeps the focus on the story and the people it effects. Nothing is lurid about the film, and the director foregoes any urge to deify the Spotlight team for their work (in several crucial scenes, it’s highlighted that the Globe did indeed receive tip-offs regarding church abuse a decade prior and did not act). Journalism as depicted here is a time consuming job, stripped of any glamour and built from minute tasks that soon create a damning narrative.

The city of Boston plays as crucial a role in the film as the journalists themselves. The markers of the heavily Catholic city, described frequently in the story as resembling a small town in terms of communal closeness, loom overhead in almost every scene. There are reminders on every corner of the abuses of power that happened for decades without repercussions, and the revelations leave the Spotlight team unable to look at their beloved home in the same way again.

With a uniformly strong cast jam packed with stars, there’s nary a weak link in the ensemble. Keaton, riding high from his comeback inBirdman, offers the most striking performance as Robinson, the quiet man in charge with a talent for getting under the skin of the people he interrogates. Mark Ruffalo’s role is the showiest – with the one emotional outburst coming from his eternally twitchy character – but as with the film, it’s the quieter actors who shine, including Stanley Tucci and Brian D’arcy James.

The Spotlight investigation won the Boston Globe a Pulitzer Prize, yet you’ll never hear about that in the film. Instead, their focuses remain on the case at hand, one that is still ongoing and may never offer complete resolution. Spotlight is a sensitively handled and tightly controlled drama that does justice to the story and the people involved.

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