With a back catalogue of work that includes ‘The Station Agent’, ‘The Visitor’ and ‘Win Win’ as well as a screenwriter credit on ‘Up’, Tom McCarthy is definitely in the upper echelons of those who profess to make films in Hollywood. Sure, he made ‘The Cobbler’ in 2014, a film that proves Adam Sandler can drag almost anybody down, but there’s no doubting that he’s a very talented filmmaker.
After that misstep though it was vital that he went back to hitting the high notes, and there was no need to worry because ‘Spotlight’ is excellent. McCarthy tells the story of the 2002 Boston Globe investigation in to the systemic child sex abuse that was present in the Catholic church in the Boston area. Far from sensationalising events, McCarthy opts for a very understated approach, his direction is subtle and inobtrusive, a great contrast to Adam McKay’s work on ‘The Big Short’ which while excellent is absolutely in your face the whole time. This is a very different sort of film.
In a film where the director allows the story to do the work, the acting becomes all the more important. Luckily McCarthy’s cast is fantastic, the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber putting in brilliant performances in their respective roles, all of which contain that understated, real quality that makes the film so important. Ruffalo’s performance has garnered him multiple awards nominations, and it’s a true example of his diverse acting range because for the most part his work here is the antithesis of his work as Bruce Banner in the Marvel universe. Sure, he gets to shout a few times but as Michael Rezendes he feels thoroughly human, there is nothing sensational about his character, and that’s a very good thing.
Other embodiments of this are Liev Schreiber, whose quiet gem of a performance as the Globe’s new editor can not be underestimated, and Rachel McAdams who once again proves just how good she is. There really isn’t a misstep throughout the cast, and we get powerhouse performances from Keaton, John Slattery and Stanley Tucci too.
With the performances nailed down, the final piece of the puzzle is the way it presents its tale, and the manner it does that is most reminiscent of the excellent ‘All the President’s Men’, where we are thrown in to the world of investigative journalism and the painstaking quest to eke out information wherever possible about something that is being covered up to within an inch of its life. ‘All the President’s Men’ is arguably the flashier film, cutting between countless tense scenes of information wrangling whereas ‘Spotlight’ allows us breathing space and makes sure to show us what a process an endeavour like this is, particularly when you are working against large amounts of incredulity.
This film may not be the flashiest out there and it definitely doesn’t want to be which is something that might throw a viewer with a short attention span off, but that is by no means a criticism. McCarthy’s delicate hand is what this story needed to come to life, and his refusal to adhere to the Hollywood structure means that we don’t get a massive celebratory moment at the end, but a quieter, more considered affair that really gets to what it’s like to work as a reporter on cases as sensitive as these, particularly when the outcome isn’t quite as satisfying as it should perhaps have been. An excellent, worthy film that may not wow, but lives long in the memory.
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