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Spotlight Review

By Calvin Prickett Mar 1, 2016

Spotlight tells the remarkable true story of the Boston Globe newspaper’s investigative journalism unit, whom broke the story of the systemic child abuse and culture of secrecy and cover-ups within the Catholic Church.

If the subject matter is bleak and uncomfortable, it is a testament to those involved that Spotlight never feels overbearing or soul-crushing. It’s hard-hitting, certainly, but with a perfectly balanced tone that invokes a seemingly-effortless realism.

Best Actor winner Michael Keaton leads the piece with typical aplomb as Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson, the self-described “player coach” of the journalistic team. A masterfully understated performance (that becomes truly outstanding if one is familiar with whom he is portraying), the high-calibre to which Keaton is operating nowadays palpably elevates the ensemble surrounding him.

Rachel McAdams puts in a career-high as fellow journalist Sacha Pffeifer, whose character’s emotional turmoil in breaking the story never
once impacts her warmth, leading to one of the film’s most gut-wrenching pay-offs. Stanley Tucci, as is the norm nowadays, also makes the most of a surprisingly minor role as a defense lawyer for the victims of abuse – making a character who could have in lesser hands felt cartoonish, instead feel eccentric.

Mark Ruffalo, unfortunately, somewhat lets the side down; as fellow Spotlight journalist, the Avengers actor lends himself to some of the film’s best scenes, and his character’s clueless social bullishness also generating a surprising number of laughs. Disappointingly, an otherwise great performance is marred by a bizarre immersion-breaking voice affectation that aims for Boston, yet falls closer to TV chef Jamie Oliver.

Director Tom McCarthy (The Visitor) has gone on to receive an Oscar nomination for his work with Spotlight, and it’s plain to see why. Though it feels strange to praise a movie that spends half of its run-time in a single office for being ‘beautifully directed’, McCarthy makes the most of his limited
resources. His understanding of when to let a shot rest and linger, to allow the narrative to pierce through the veil of cinematography, is staggeringly commendable. Spotlight is sumptuous to behold without ever seeming indulgent.

Whilst lacking any truly astounding performances or singularly impressive moments, Spotlight is that rarest of beasts these days; a genuinely good drama, satisfyingly told, and utterly devoid of pretension. It is a movie not necessarily concerned with its actors, but more with the story it wishes to tell, unfurling its revelations and discoveries like a genuine investigation. Though lacking in popcorn appeal, if you’ve a hankering for a seriously impressive drama, and one with something to say, you can scarcely do better this awards season than Spotlight.

Spotlight is in cinemas now rated 15, and last night won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

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