Spotlight: Tom McCarthy’s Best Picture Oscar–Journalistic Tale of Sex Abuse

spotlight_1Assuming that each generation needs a cinematic reminder of the power and significance of the press, Spotlight, Tom McCarthy’s detailed chronicle of the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into the sex scandals within the Catholic Church, is to the new millennium what All the President’s Men, made by Alan Pakula in 1976 to celebrate the Bicentennial, was to moviegoers a generation ago.

Read Interview with Director McCarthy

Spotlight: Interview with Director Tom McCarthy on his Investigative Journalism Drama

spotlight_5Marking his most fully realized film to date, Spotlight joins a remarkable list of classic Hollywood investigative movies–highlights of the procedural genre–such as Michael Mann’s The Insider and David Fincher’s Zodiac.

The movie should “play well” (to use Hollywood jargon) with audiences.  How do I know? Of the six films I have seen in the first two days of the festival, Spotlight is the only one that has received such a warm response from journalists, real heartfelt applause.  Let’s face it, critics are more likely to be muted or to boo (remember the reaction to Gus Van Sant’s “Sea of Trees” in Cannes Fes in May?) than to clap early in the morning.

World premiering ar the Venice Film Fest (out of competition), Spotlight also played at Telluride and Toronto Film Fests.  It opened in the U.S. on November 5, 2015.

spotlight_4_mcadamsAs director and co-writer, McCarthy should be commended for his impressively controlled approach, attention to minute detail in how journalists really work (the tedious and boring as well as the thrilling and exciting), and balanced perspective in dealing with the scary crimes and even scarier cover-up.  It depicts not only the negative aspects–who will deny the horrible deeds of those priests who violate their authority as roles models by preying on children–but also the positive functions the Catholic Church continues to perform for so many worshippers.

McCarthy brings an insider’s approach to his socially-relevant film, based on his origins: “I was raised Catholic. I went to school in Boston. I have friends who were abused by priests, some of whom are mentioned in my movie, but I also continue to see how much good the Catholic Church does, and how many good people, clergy and lay alike, are associated with the Church.”

spotlight_3_keaton_ruffalo_mcadamsConsidering that he is dealing with a touchy subject matter that’s still very much relevant–please stay to the very end, when hundred of places (in and outside the US), in which sex abuse is known to prevail, are enlisted on screen–Spotlight could have been darker and sleazier, with lurid flashbacks of sex abuse and overly sentimental scenes of the victims’ past or present.

The entire cast exemplifies ensemble acting at its very best, serving well the film’s central theme of team work.  McCarthy is an actor but he does not indulge his cast in any histrionic behavior.  Balance and restraint are the name of the game: Spotlight doesn’t glorify its reporters the way that All the president’s Men did.  None of the team’s members (not even the beautiful Rachel McAdams) has the star looks of golden boy Robert Redford or Method actor cachet of Dustin Hoffman in that seminal film about the Watergate scandals.

spotlight_2_keaton_ruffaloUltimately, despite the grim subject and dire situation, Spotlight is nostalgic, at least as far as new media and technology are concerned.  The director admits that he wishes his movie to serve as “an ode to the kind of high-end investigative reporting that is in severe deficit today, especially on the local level in the US.”