In this year’s excellent award season, one film was the talk of the town. Despite the occasional moment when it looked like dark horse The Revenant might be the surprise Best Picture winner, it really was obvious from the start that Spotlight was going to claim the prize. The dark, true subject matter is exactly the sort of thing the Academy loves – and after being so hip and trendy last year giving the big award to Birdman, they’re back to their old predictable ways. Yes, Spotlight won countless accolades this award season – but is it actually any good?
Out now on DVD & Blu-ray, Spotlight follows the unbelievable true story of how a small team within the Boston Globe newspaper – known as the Spotlight team - uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire faith and world to its core. The team was made up of 6 people, and they were taking on an entire religion. Such balls. But their investigation and discovery was even darker and more upsetting than they expected, and throughout it they were fought very hard by a lot of people. But this group of brave outcasts could not accept this story not getting out there, and fought back. And they won.
The acting across the board is phenomenal, with an immensely strong cast including Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Michael Keaton continuing his brilliant resurgence after the amazing Birdman. Spotlight is an ensemble piece, with everyone given an opportunity to shine. It’s Ruffalo, however, who steals the show with his intense performance as tormented investigative reporter Michael Rezendes - arguably the lead if you had to pick one. In the last few years, Ruffalo has become one of the finest actors working today and Spotlight furthers this growth with great panache. Michael Keaton is brilliant – of course he is, the man can do no wrong. Unfortunately, McAdams is the weak link. I love her, but she is greatly overshadowed here by far superior performances all around her. Smaller characters portrayed by Billy Crudup, Stanley Tucci, John Slattery and Live Schreiber leave a more lasting impression, not to mention the incredibly well-performed abuse victim characters whom she interviews in the film. And before we move past the cast, let’s all acknowledge Brian d’Arcy James – easily the least-known actor in the main cast who was rudely left out of the majority of the film’s marketing. He’s brilliant. And visually, the film is hauntingly beautiful. Making a character out of Boston, the bleak cold streets with large churches looming out of every corner ram home the power of the Catholic faith within the narrative.
Still, Spotlight doesn’t do enough to warrant its many accolades. Sure, the performances are great and the subject matter is powerful, but the film is rather a run-of-the-mill bit of Oscar fodder that, like many Best Picture winners before it, will soon be forgotten. There’s no stand out moment or memorable scene, the film ambles along at a slow and steady pace with no huge revelations that aren’t revealed in the trailer…It’s just all a little bit too pedestrian. If Spotlight wasn’t based on a true story, or one of such a sensitive subject, it would just be a standard investigative drama that would’ve gone completely unnoticed by award academies. The films it was up against this year – like The Revenant – will surely be remembered a lot longer. In 20 years’ time, I can imagine a pub quiz question being something along the lines of: “What film beat Mad Max: Fury Road to Best Picture at the Oscars in 2016?”. I doubt I’ll be able to answer that question correctly. I might even struggle this time next year…
But hey, Spotlight is still absolutely worth a watch – I just can’t imagine it’s one you’ll ever feel the need to revisit. It’s an incredibly slow, understated and quiet viewing experience but a harrowing true story like this deserves to be treated gently, it would be wrong to crowbar in some sort of chase scene or action! Spotlight is bleak. Very bleak. But it’s a story that needed to be told, and an inspiring message for everyone to fight against injustice and get the truth out there no matter what.
It may not be the most memorable or exciting Best Picture winner, but it’s certainly an important film that needs to be seen. 3/5.
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