SPOTLIGHT tells the story of the team of reporters at the Boston Globe who broke the Catholic priest sex scandal. Viewers expecting more about the scandal itself might come away disappointed: it is focused solely on the reporters. This is both a strength and a weakness.
It allows the audience to learn with the characters about the scandal, each development not only shocking watchers but also those on screen. It keeps the film engaging even when it is not moving forward. SPOTLIGHT will not keep you on the edge of your seat, but it is tough to pull yourself away from the scenes.
It also means some things are not as explored as in depth as they should have been. There will be no spoilers here, but, at the risk of being vague, there is one scene where a reporter confronts a priest that reveals new revelations that do not get much discussion. Additionally, I mentioned in my REVENANT review how the demanding film parallels Leo’s journey within it; here once again the structure mirrors the content. SPOTLIGHT is a “just the facts” journalistic account. There are few if any frills. Which is a shame, as certain characters had backstories that would have been interesting to investigate, particularly the two most lauded performances, Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton. Both have troubled personal lives but these are only hinted at. These backstories occupy an awkward middle ground where either less or more information would have been satisfying, but as it is these half-formed side stories distract rather than enhance. One wonders if a director’s cut could fix this.
The cinematography and direction are also lackluster, but then, in a film such as this, they do not need to be awe-inspiring. The writing and acting, though not themselves perfect, more than make up for any flaws in other departments.
Still, SPOTLIGHT is an example of a film that is elevated by its subject matter. If it had not been about such an important and jaw-dropping scandal, would the movie—still featuring similar levels of acting, writing, directing, etc—become as acclaimed as it is? It is difficult (and perhaps not even worthwhile) to try to divorce story from film, but it is certainly food for thought.
Although a lot more space in this review was dedicated to the film’s negatives, SPOTLIGHT is a great work, a movie that should not be missed. The plotting and characters will keep almost everyone watching. It is just a shame that a film with certain aspects as excellent as the writing and acting here should also feature such averageness in other departments.
In the coming weeks, as the Oscars approach, stay tuned for more movie reviews and predictions.