Spotlight is an Oscar bait movie, let’s make no mistake about that. It’s a straight-up drama concerning a controversial topic of priests abusing children all framed within a semi-historical context of 2001 with a focus on the journalistic pursuit of several journalists trying to uncover the truth behind this story. All of this is fonder for awards, ever piece of it, but what the film expertly balances and largely avoids is the falling into simple traps of storytelling and cliche story beats that telegraph it to its assumed end.
Yes, the contents of this film scream Oscar bait, but the directing, acting and story could not have been telling a more different story. I think the greatest strength of the film is the focus on the A story of the investigation of priests molesting children. The film never devolves into b-stories such as the tease of Mark Ruffalo’s character being separated from his wife and what he’s to do about that, no, but rather the film just lets those idea simmer as basis for its characters in service as what it does for the main story. Which quite simply involves the Boston Globe’s special investigation team delving into a pattern of molestation from local priests over the past decade.
This is a sensitive topic, obviously, and one that doesn’t necessarily seem to bring high-strung action or tension, but the film expertly keeps a level curiosity and keeps you on the edge of your seat as they delve deeper and deeper into this investigation. There is no out-of-this-world twists or major revelations that flip everything on it’s head, but rather everything is very hauntingly real-world in the sense that you could imagine this very thing happening in your very yard, in that these machinations could happen anywhere.
Not a surprise, but the acting is fantastic across the board, including Michael Keaton putting in some excellent work in the midst of a career resurgence and people like Rachel McAdams reminding you how much of a great actor they really are. The standout is Mark Ruffalo, no question, someone who I’ve been a fan of for years and just totally inhabits his role as this neurotic perfectionist who will do whatever to get the right story told. Ruffalo’s performance straddles the line of a person with semi-eccentricities that make him fodder for easy Oscar bait, but he handles it with such realness and fidelity that it never seems like a stretch or a grab for any type of congratulations. The performances in general were really what kept the film firing on the clip it did for the entire runtime, including Liev Scheiber who was first introduced in the film as a sure-fire antagonist, but succumbed to the realness of the film and was largely a supportive entity in the pursuit of the film, rather than a negative force in front of the main actors, a refreshing course in what these types of film usually deliver when a force from outside the realm of the story intercedes.
Spotlight has been billed as the frontrunner for the best picture Oscar over four months out, and while I think it’s a fantastic film, I just dont’ know if at this point I can agree that it’ll take that with ease. Make no mistake, though, this is a wondrous film which tackles a subject that is so wildly ignored, attacks it without abandon and uses its characters to deliver a story that seems like it could be told in your local newspaper, and not just on the Hollywood screen.