Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Stepping Into the Spotlight

The Oscar nominations won't be announced until mid-January, but many people are already attempting to predict the Best Picture nominees -- with this year featuring considerably more uncertainty and disagreement than usual. The one film everyone seems to regard as a sure nomination is Spotlight (even though many are reluctant to proclaim it the front runner for the award itself).

Spotlight is the true story of the news reporters for the Boston Globe who worked throughout 2001 to uncover the epidemic of child abuse committed by priests within the Catholic Church. Some have called the movie an All the President's Men for the modern age, in that it's more a film about the power of investigative journalism than it is about the specific scandal being investigated. (Some also suggest that for this reason, the movie is more adored by critics -- journalists -- than it will be by the Academy's voting body, hence why it hasn't already got Best Picture all sewn up.)

In any case, the movie is a powerful viewing experience. But for the most part, it's not loaded with the showy histrionics that often mark the typical Best Picture. The cast is top notch, featuring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, and more. But it's all very subtle and restrained, grounded acting. Ruffalo gets one scene where he really cuts loose and burns the figurative store down, but otherwise the actors are conveying their emotions through stunned silences, small head shakes, and tiny eye movements.

The actors who do actually land the movie's biggest emotional punches are a procession of incredibly well cast, hard-working actors who each get just a few minutes on film. The script, by Josh Singer and director Tom McCarthy, creates powerful scenes for several performers who portray adults wrestling with the consequences of past abuse. Every one of these hits home. In one, a character powerfully expresses the spiritual component to the abuse, beyond the obvious physical abuse. In another, a man notes that when he was struggling to come to terms with being gay, validation from a priest seemed at first to be a sort of life raft. There are but a couple of the movie's impactful scenes; I won't spoil more in continuing to detail them.

Perhaps the movie's biggest emotional punch comes right before the end credits roll, when the audience is very effectively reminded that this is a real world story. On screen text lists all the major cities in which large scale abuse was covered up by the Catholic Church -- the list is both haunting and infuriating in its length.

Overall, Spotlight doesn't necessarily feel to me like a movie that makes you sit up and take notice. Nevertheless, it does take you on a journey and leave you wrung out at the end. I give it an A-. It might not necessarily be my Best Picture pick of the year, but it's certainly worthy of being in the hunt.

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