As I write this, the Oscars are a few days away. The movie industry and movie twitterverse are abuzz with anticipation and hot takes. Just how overrated is The Revenant anyway? Obviously this time of year is the stuff movie podcasts and movie podcasters are made of. The content practically creates itself. You may have noticed that we didn’t and won’t be covering the Oscars. Is it a protest? Not really. We did name our Best and Worst Movies of 2015 (cheap plug). My issue at least is that I didn’t make it out to the theater to see most of the Best Picture films. Only now are many of them available on digital streaming. Which is why I am rethinking my list after seeing Spotlight.
Spotlight is the least Hollywood Hollywood version of real events in some time. There are no hyper dramatic scenes and very few moralizing speeches. Only one I can recall. The reporters at the Boston Globe (based on real people) are not heroes in the sense we are conditioned to expect. These men and woman are first and foremost journalists at the turn of the millennium facing two crisis. The first is evidence of child sex abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests and the Roman Church’s purposeful cover up. Of course the mere allegation of such sickening crimes is enough to shake the institution at Boston’s heart. The second is the oncoming death of print. Two institutions locked in a struggle to survive. This fact matters because the price for investigating the story has to be outweighed by the benefit of beating the cross town rival for the scoop. I wrote earlier of realism and this tension speaks to that. The reporters care about children being abused. They care about the truth. The also care about their dwindling jobs and beating the Herald. In a lesser movie the narrative would be all about saint like reporters taking down the big bad Catholic church. This movie isn’t that simple and either is the real human tragedy of pedophile priests and the faith they disease.
A quick Googling will probably confirm that this movie has been labeled “anti-Catholic”. It isn’t. There are no jabs at religion, Christianity, or Rome. That isn’t the story. The story is about a room full of journalists, ex Catholics, who are slowly coming to the revelation that something very sickening has been going on for decades and that men, in God’s name or Boston’s name, have conspired to cover it up. The only innocents in Spotlight are the survivors. Ripped apart by devastating spiritual and sexual abuse. Herein lies my criticism, if Spotlight is flawed it is flawed in showing the survivors as nothing more than mostly junkies. We get the odd scene of the “successful” survivor but most are heroin addicts, drunks, or sexually confused. While these survivor stereotypes are too often true they are not definitive. Survivors are not all the same. However, in this movie the survivors are not so much the point but the inciting incident which drives the search for a story. This keeps the movie from feeling exploitative but it also keeps it from being honest.
Michael Keaton proves once again why he needs to be in movies. His intensity, which previously lent to the comedic and heroic, is present behind a world warn face. He has reached that place some older actors do where the dialogue is written in his body. He need not say a word. The rest of the cast is great but it is Mark Ruffalo who transforms into a mannered reporter nearly manic in his efforts. His performance feels too specific to be a fabrication. Ruffalo is nominated for Best Supporting Actor. An award I’d have no problem giving him if not for Sylvester Stallone’s turn in Creed. The greatest praise I can give is that a cast full of too familiar faces vanishes behind the story. The film trumps the stars. The reality trumps the fiction and the facts trump the flash. One can only imagine how an episode of Law and Order would handle this. Yuck.
9.2 out of 10