SPOTLIGHT (2015, Tom McCarthy)
Such an arrogant piece of self-congratulatory lecture-theater that it’s gotta be a lock for Best Picture. I lost count of the number of scenes that end on sick truth bombs, but perhaps that’s because I was already losing count over the number of times McCarthy stitched two scenes together using a locked-down exterior shot accompanied by Howard Shore’s piano-tinkling compositions. (Given that this is a Boston-set film about rapist priests, no surprise they commissioned a score from the guy who composed THE DEPARTED and DOUBT, right? But what did you expect from this film, something unpredictable?)
Speaking of those scene-ending zingers, some of them make sense but are just dun-dun-DUN (Like Tucci saying “Mark my words: if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” Off Ruffalo’s stunned reaction…) and some of them don’t (when one reporter describes the euphemistic statuses granted to rapist priests like “sick leave” and “assignment,” Ruffalo says “They got a word for everything, these guys” and McAdams says “Except for rape.” Actually, those are their words for rape. That was his point.)
It’s bad enough when each of those battering-ram scolding techniques exist on their own — put them together and you have enough eye-rolling to injure an optic nerve. At one point, Keaton and McAdams are walking along a sidewalk and McAdams says “so it seems everyone there already knew this story” and Keaton goes “except for us, and we work there.” Then the camera tilts up to show the outside of the Boston Globe building, clearly identified as such. This film is made for the cheap seats and the back of the class, and wouldn’t even make an effort at the slightest bit of challenging material. It assumes the obvious position that child molestation is bad, and institutionalized cover-ups enable it (yeah no shit) and then pats its audience on the back for agreeing with the noble reporters who carry out this crusade.
And it isn’t like these reporters don’t deserve credit — journalism is hard, fact-checking is tedious, and research has way too many dead ends. McCarthy does go the extra mile to explore this, and that’s fine. But instead of giving us characters, he gives us mouthpieces clawing like vultures over the few Oscars they can scrounge. Ruffalo has the same earnest lip-purse on his mug the entire film, Keaton wears his Boston accent like an ill-fitting pair of Dockers, and McAdams is only good in close-up, because medium and wide shots reveal she doesn’t know what to do with her hands. And I think Liev Schreiber may have been in the movie but he’s such a vacuum of personality you won’t necessarily notice him. At least there’s John Slattery, doing an excellent Roger Sterling whenever he’s bemused: “Are there really 90 fuckin’ priests?”
McCarthy is very concerned with setting a Time and Place. One scene of Ruffalo in a cab is filmed expressly from the cab’s exterior as it cruises through Boston’s surface streets, showing us that it’s got Neighborhoods and blue collar people and middle class and, yes, churches and playgrounds. (But in case you didn’t actually look at the screen, one character helpfully tells us “look, there’s a church right there. And here’s a playground right next to it.”) When the investigation is temporarily delayed by 9/11, there’s a minute or so of people standing by the TVs basically going “Huh. Would you look at that. Anyway, so about those priests…” By the time McCarthy ladles the sound of a children’s church choir singing “Silent Night” at Christmas over shots of abuse victims crying in front of reporters, you’ll want to grab some rosary beads and say a Hail Mary for cinematic subtlety — good luck getting McCarthy to answer it.