Spotlight (2015)

For better or worse, Spotlight absolutely succeeds in being a journalistic film about journalism. It’s a very competently made film, with a stellar cast, and a refreshing sense of restraint all too rare in films about such charged issues. There is no real main character (the Globe itself probably fits the function best); the individual journalists don’t get an awful lot of shading, but the film is more about their journalistic process then their lives.

I was frustrated by how rarely the cinematography reinforced the films themes. There’s one sequence at a children’s park near a church. A character even comments on the contrast. And the camera refuses to frame it in an interesting way. There are so many moments like this screaming for visual elaboration, but the majority of the film feels like a very expensive TV movie – eminently flat. This isn’t to say the cinematography is bad – the film excels on nearly all technical levels -, just that it’s uncreative.

Of the cast, Mark Ruffalo does the most in the way of making his character stand out. I could really understand his character’s viewpoint, Ruffalo did a great job (as usual). But the rest of the cast, while nearly all great actors in their own right, didn’t really do much to elaborate on their characters.

I have mixed feelings on the film’s stance towards emotional manipulation. It holds high emotion close to its chest, only really bursting out in some of Ruffalo’s scenes. I understand the film was trying to portray the journalistic process, thus being about the fact-checking, the interviews, and so on, rather than the indignity or the pain. But the film’s highly emotive, even cloying at times, score seemed at cross-purposes there. I didn’t feel like the film was unified on its stance here.

There were a lot of loose ends (most noticeably the priest Rachel McAdams’ character finds at his house), but as a story about journalism I don’t think it’s too odd they were left loose and unaddressed. It’s a well-written script, but such a journalistic focus means the film was never going to work as cinema as well as it could have if it was done more traditionally. The pacing also suffered here, never really flaring up so much as constantly being on that slow burn, with an occasional flare only to be subsumed by the same dialogues.

The film is nearly entirely dialogue. I have zero problem with that, and much of the dialogue is very well-written. But without any visual flourishes, I found myself getting disillusioned by the extremely restrained camerawork. The lack of pay-off doesn’t bother me. But I do feel like it’s possible the film would have worked better as a documentary. I’m just not sure what being a film brought to the table to a script so utterly journalistic in nature. It’s without a doubt a very, very good movie, but I won’t deny that I was underwhelmed.

Honestly, I think perhaps I’m being harsher on the film than I otherwise might have been because I recall Zodiac so well, a film just as journalistic in nature, and also starring Mark Ruffalo, but a film so much better as well. Zodiac was unified at every level; there was no tonal issues like Spotlight’s score. Zodiac absolutely worked as a piece of cinema, telling so much of its story so well through its visuals. While Spotlight’s cast is impressive, and has a smart script, I just don’t feel that cohesion here. I also feel that while the script is smart, it’s not as smart as some are saying – there really is a needlessly large level of exposition.

I give it three newspaper clippings, and a mawkish score.

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