I made a concerted effort to see all eight of the Academy Award Best Picture nominees before the ceremony, and I was almost successful. The goal of these efforts was to be able to make an informed decision about which film I thought was most deserving of the top award on the evening. Without going too deep into analysis of which film should have won, I need to say that SPOTLIGHT was certainly not one of my top three choices.
Because of the subject matter involved in the film, I can understand certain groups of people disliking the film or casting aspersions. The content of the film, based on true events, certainly attacks the Catholic Church for its decades-long enabling of sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse. Just as was seen as part of the film’s plot, I imagine there is backlash against the film from people who want to believe SPOTLIGHT is too negative towards the church, is anti-Catholic, or is too harsh towards a Christian institution.
As a non-Catholic Christian, I find the acts of those who used their position within the church to abuse countless individuals, and the enabling by the institution for the continuation of abuse by not removing or punishing these individuals to the fullest extent is horrible.
My vantage point on SPOTLIGHT doesn’t come from a biased position against the film’s message. If anything, I’d love to be able to endorse the film more than I already can.
The problem is that it’s just not an exceptional film. By no means was it the best picture of the year. Not by a long shot.
The best thing I can say about the film is that it’s an exceptionally important story to be told that this level of abuse was occurring and being covered up by one of the single largest organizations in the world, one which is viewed as being a proponent of morality on the highest of scales. It’s possible that this film is more important to watch than The Big Short, which I’ve also identified as mandatory viewing from the 2015 slate of films.
Despite the cast list, the acting wasn’t as great as it could have been. Michael Keaton has continued his career revival with another strong performance, but none of his stronger, more impactful scenes in the film made good use of the opportunity. Whether it was because the script lacked exceptional dialogue, or the director didn’t pull the most out of the scene, or the background music choices were wrong or the cinematography was off or the flow wasn’t right… I don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t lay the weight of SPOTLIGHT’s inadequacy on Michael Keaton, nor any of the other actors. I’d probably start with the director. After seeing the film, my first thought was that I hoped the director (whose name I didn’t know at the time and I’m not going to bother looking up at the moment) didn’t get recognized for his “efforts” with an Oscar nomination, because it’s absolutely undeserving.
Mark Ruffalo had some decent moments in the film, most notably when his character gets heated and emotional about wanting to push forward more quickly with getting the story to the public and not making it wait any longer than completely necessary. Other than that, I felt like the words coming out of his mouth were simply lines of dialogue someone had written for him and were delivered with a measured pacing. It just didn’t feel natural, just like when he attempted to portray a New Englander in INFINITELY POLAR BEAR, which also felt forced.
I was also disappointed by Rachel McAdams in the film. When she wasn’t the only star in a scene, she mostly faded into the background, eclipsed by other actors whose shadows shouldn’t be dark enough to cover what she’s capable of showing. And when she drives a scene, for some reason her heart never seemed into it. Perhaps she was trying to portray her character as something of a cold, investigative reporter who never let herself delve too far into the story, but there weren’t any huge hints at that being the case, and ultimately it took away any sort of emotional affectation to her character or the individuals she was interviewing, abusers and victims.
There’s not much to say about Liev Schreiber’s character, whose potentially interesting role in the events were minimized by how he was presented. That is to say they started down certain paths with his character, how he was viewed in terms of being an outsider entering the communities involved (Boston, Catholics, and the Boston Globe), but didn’t use them to any significant affect.
Bottom line: Good movie, but not great. Lacks in direction and script and the acting falls well short of its potential. Relies too heavily on the significant nature of the storyline, using it to bolster it from being an average film. Probably deserves far less than the score I’ve given it, absolutely undeserving of Best Picture.
80 out of 100