“Spotlight” is a biographical drama directed by Tom McCarthy, starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel McAdams. The film follows a news team known as Spotlight working for The Boston Globe, focusing on their investigation of widespread child abuse in the Boston area by Catholic priests. It’s a largely procedural film which highlights the difficulty of breaking such a controversial story, rather than concentrating on specific instances of abuse and the effects that these events had on the victims.
It’s important to note that “Spotlight” is attempting to portray real events, which is most likely why the focus is so heavily on the individuals reporting the abuse, rather than the abuse itself. The goal of the team is to demonstrate that the abuse taking place is systematic and that it has been hidden by the Church, so at no point does the film linger too heavily on any one case or victim. This can make events feel slightly hollow, considering the fact that “Spotlight” tackles such a horrific subject matter, as victims are rarely seen and nobody specific is held accountable.
The fact that this film is based on true events also means that there is very little in the way of drama, as the majority of the run time consists in the reporters talking to victims, affiliates of the Church, or each other. They don’t chase after runaway priests or get into shootouts with cardinals; they just do their jobs and attempt to uncover the truth. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, because this lack of drama is very much intentional and represents a focused approach on the subject matter; however, it is frustrating when potential conflict arises only to immediately fizzle out. The team face various issues as the film progresses, whether it be a cardinal inadvertently threatening them or the fear that other papers will get hold of the story and botch it, but these problems vanish as quickly as they appear.
This issue isn’t helped by the fact that the trailer basically shows the entire film, although some of the scenes are made more exciting by the fact that they are taken out of context. Nothing happens in “Spotlight” that you won’t already be aware of after seeing the trailer, so it’s hard to get invested in what happens on screen. A scene in which the team realise that as many as ninety priests could in fact be paedophiles in the Boston area alone is one which should cause shock, but this number is explicitly mentioned in the trailer. As a result, any impact that this figure might’ve had is lost on an audience which is desperate for something interesting to happen.
Despite the fact that “Spotlight” is a noticeably rigid and at times tedious film, I still enjoyed it for what it was. It definitely doesn’t need to be seen in a cinema, unless you really want to see it before the Oscars, but it is a well-written movie with committed performances. Michael Keaton is excellent throughout, and he is very believable as a journalist. I personally find it baffling that Mark Ruffalo has been nominated for an Oscar for his supporting role, especially given that Keaton wasn’t, but he still does a decent job. McAdams is also as endearing as ever, and she’s convincing as a journalist who is capable of getting information out of apprehensive sources.
“Spotlight” is a good film, but the fact that it takes on true events means that it is significantly limited. I wouldn’t recommend seeing it at a cinema, given the extortionate prices that are charged, but if you’re interested in the story then it is worth watching when it gets a DVD release.