Saturday, December 26, 2015

Tom McCarthy's SPOTLIGHT is as good as you've heard. Which is saying a whole lot.

Earlier this year New York magazine ran an article in which it noted that writer/director Tom McCarthy had managed to have both one of the year's best reviewed movies (SPOTLIGHT) and one of its worst-reviewed (The Cobbler*). That's some kind of weird record, to say the least. Having finally caught up with Spotlight this week, TrustMovies can vouch for how fine a film it is: one of the very few I've seen that delves into a particular workplace -- investigative reporting for a big-city daily newspaper (in this case The Boston Globe) -- and, according all the notices I've so far seen, together with what I myself know about investigative reporting, shows this workplace in a truthful and realistic manner.

The story it tells, based pretty closely on the facts, is of the pedophile-priests scandal that rocked the Boston area and The Catholic Church a decade or more ago, and that ought to have rocked both two decades earlier, when reports of the abuse were also coming in. Mr McCarthy, shown at left, has long been a wonderful filmmaker, talented, modest and reliably low-key. From The Station Agent, through The Visitor and Win Win, his talent has resulted in movies in which "reach" and "grasp" become one and the same. (The fellow is also a fine actor, with 38 acting credits to his name but only seven writing and five directing credits, according to the IMDB.)

Spotlight is the first time McCarthy has worked on anywhere this large a scale. Yet, along with his co-screenwriter, Josh Singer, he's been able to capture both the big picture (the network of power that had kept the scandal in tow for so long) and the small one (the step-by-step investigation procedures that finally result in the whole story). As per usual, the filmmaker manages this in such a modest, unshowy fashion that it might seem easy to overlook his excellent work come awards time.
I hope not.

One hallmark of McCarthy's films is their fine ensemble acting. Not only is Spotlight no exception, it features as good an ensemble performance as the filmmaker has managed so far. My spouse pointed out immediately after viewing the film that it seemed like these actors were real people rather than performers or characters. There is indeed a documentary feel which contributes mightily to the unusual sense of reality the film achieves.

"Spotlight" is the name of the small group of reporters who work on special projects for the Globe, often taking a very long time to bring their stories to fruition. Leading the group is Robbie (Michael Keaton, shown above, left, and three photos above, here as low-key and under-the-radar as he was over-the-top in last year's overblown Birdman). Robbie has a bevy of good reporters under his wing, including Matt (Brian d'Arcy James, at left, two photos above), Sacha (Rachel McAdams (above, right) and Mike (Mark Ruffalo, below, right, with Stanley Tucci, who plays the lawyer for many of the victims).

All of these characters (shown below) report to Ben Bradlee, Jr. (John Slattery, seen below, right), who in turn reports to the paper's new editor-in-chief (played by an extremely bright but buttoned-down Liev Schreiber, shown at bottom, second from left).

So cleverly and intelligently is laid out the investigation -- alternating between victims (with only an occasional look at a predator) and reporters, between those in the power structure, whether it be the Church or its minions who run the city and culture, who want to keep the story underwraps -- that the film allows us to fully understand what is going on without ever being banged atop the head with "meaning" or heavy-handed ironies. (The movie also never seems too slick; rather, it appears focused and pro-active -- adjectives that I'll bet describe the moviemaker, too.)

The film moves fast, too. Timing out at just over two hours, there's not a tired or treacly moment to be seen. Distributed by Open Road -- a company that, after releasing a number of very good but not all that big-at-the-boxoffice movies (from Hit and Run to End of Watch) has finally broken into the big-time with this excellent film -- Spotlight is playing across the country now. Click here to find the theater near you.

*After viewing Spotlight and taking into consideration 
McCarthy's entire oeuvre, we're planning to stream 
The Cobbler off Netflix tonight -- to see if maybe 
that critical drubbing was undeserved. 
We'll weigh in with our opinion a little later....

No comments: