Much has been - rightly - made of Spotlight's pleading for the noble calling of journalism as a public service that sheds light in dark or unexplored corners and improves society in the process. For me, though, what's really most interesting in Tom McCarthy's retelling of the Boston Globe's 2001-2002 investigation on the child abuse cover-ups in the Boston diocese is how it all boils down to selfless teamwork. Spotlight is neither a star vehicle or a vanity project, rather an ensemble piece where no one stands above the rest, where the individual contributions of cast and crew are absorbed into the whole.
It was the teamwork of Boston Globe's Spotlight team of investigative reporters that made the story happen - Spotlight points out that American theme of community, of everyone joining in and working together for a common cause. Though the film is openly retelling a true story that deals with child abuse and church cover-ups, the opposition between business and morality, the modern crisis in journalism's business model, and the swirling ethics that surround all of these, what Spotlight essentially does is move the conversation forward.
In the shape of a shoe-leather procedural that moves slowly through trial and error, one-step-forward-two-steps-back, eschewing big stars in favour of a stellar ensemble cast headlined by reliable actors like Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber and Michael Keaton, Mr. McCarthy's patient, unassuming film is all about remembering that behind the headlines and scandals are actual living, breathing, feeling people who have to deal with these things daily. And it's about them deserving that we deal with their story in a level-headed, non-sensationalised way.
That also makes it mirror the ideal (and idealized) studio system we identify with the Golden Age of Hollywood; it turns it into a reminder of the solidly crafted quality of a certain type of storytelling that has been left behind in the quest for "four-quadrant" films that will ensure global returns, based on high-paid stars and flashy visual effects. That Spotlight has in the meantime become a serious Oscar contender is not a surprise in this modern climate; it's the only avenue a "small" film such as this has left to reach an audience that is underserved, when not ignored, by the teen-oriented marketing machines of the studios. (In fact, Spotlight was not released in the US by any of the majors, but by Open Road, the independent distributor set up by the AMC and Regal theatre chains. I rest my case.)
US, 2015, 129 minutes
CAST Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d'Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup
DIR Tom McCarthy; SCR Josh Singer, Mr. McCarthy; DP Masanobu Takayanagi; M Howard Shore; PROD DES Stephen Carter; COST DES Wendy Chuck; ED Tom McArdle; PROD Michael Sugar, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin, Blye Pagon Faust
An Anonymous Content and Rocklin/Faust Productions production, presented by Participant Media and First Look Media