Sunday, July 30, 2017

"SPOTLIGHT" (2015) Review

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"SPOTLIGHT" (2015) Review

Have you ever watched a movie on DVD or cable that you regret not seeing in the movie theaters? I have. In fact, I have seen at least three films nominated for Best Picture . . . after they had been released on DVD. One of those films was the actual Best Picture winner, "SPOTLIGHT"

Directed by Oscar nominee Thomas McCarthy, "SPOTLIGHT" told the story of The Boston Globe's "Spotlight" team, the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative journalist unit in the United States and its investigation into cases of widespread and systemic child sex abuse in the Boston area by numerous Roman Catholic priests. The story began in 2001 when a new editor named Marty Baron is hired by The Globe. During a staff meeting, Baron brought up the subject of a Boston priest named John Geoghan, who was sexually abusing children and nothing was done - by the Church or the city's law enforcement - to stop him. Baron urged the "Spotlight" team to investigate. Initially believing that they are following the story of one priest who was moved around several times, the "Spotlight" team eventually uncovered a pattern of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests throughout Massachusetts and an ongoing cover-up by the Boston Archdiocese, Cardinal Bernard Law.

After watching "SPOTLIGHT", I easily understood why it had received a good deal of acclaim and award nominations. It really is a first rate movie. Due to the fact that the movie focused on a newspaper investigation team, it allowed moviegoers to enjoy the team's step-by-step investigation into the priests and their victims in the Boston area. I might as well say it. The movie reminded me of the 1975 Oscar nominee, "ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN" . . . and in a good way. I have not seen a really good movie about investigative journalism in a long time. I also have to commend director Thomas McCarthy and his co-writer Josh Singer for conveying the "Spotlight" team's discoveries via interviews and records in a well-paced manner. McCarthy did not rush the"Spotlight" team's investigation, but he did not drag it as well. In the end, the investigation itself struck me as a fascinating mystery that developed into a horror story that left me feeling appalled.

"SPOTLIGHT" not only received nominations for McCarthy's direction and the screenplay that he wrote with Singer, it also received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Mark Ruffalo and Best Supporting Actress nomination for Rachel McAdams. The pair portrayed two members of the "Spotlight" team - Michael Rezendes and Sacha Pfeiffer. I will admit that both gave first-rate performances. The movie also featured excellent performances from Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron, who started the whole thing in motion; John Slattery as Assistant Managing Editor Ben Bradlee Jr.; Brian d'Arcy James as reporter Matt Carroll; Jamey Sheridan as Catholic Church attorney Jim Sullivan; and Billy Crudup as attorney Eric MacLeish. 

Ironically, my two favorite performances in the movie did not receive any Academy Award or Golden Globe nominations. One came from Stanley Tucci, who portrayed Mitchell Garabedian, a sharp-tongued attorney who represented many sexual abuse victim. I enjoyed Tucci's sardonic, yet understated performance and how his character pointed out how many Boston officials cooperated with the Catholic Church to cover up the abuses. I also enjoyed Michael Keaton's ambiguous portrayal of editor and the team's leader, Walter "Robby" Robinson. Keaton did a great job in not only conveying his character's leadership, but also his knowledge that The Globe had learned about the abuses years earlier, but had covered it up. It seemed a shame that he did not receive an Academy or Golden Globe nomination.

As much as I enjoyed "SPOTLIGHT" and was impressed by it, a part of me feels that it should not have won the Best Picture award. I think the Academy had awarded the film its top honor simply based upon its topic. The problem for me is that "SPOTLIGHT" simply lacked any real artistry. One might accuse me of being shallow. Perhaps I am. But I would prefer to choose a movie that not only provided a great topic, but also first-rate writing . . . and artistry. I can think of two other films that were also nominated the same year as "SPOTLIGHT" that provided all of those features. Someone once pointed out that if you take away the movie's topic of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, "SPOTLIGHT" would come off as a solid, paint-by-the numbers film by a first-time director. And you know what? That person was right. There were times when McCarthy's direction for "SPOTLIGHT" seemed a bit amateurish.

Even though I feel that "SPOTLIGHT" should not have won the Best Picture Oscar for 2015, I cannot deny that it is a basically an first-rate film. I believe that this is due to its fascinating subject, the film's approach to the topic as a mystery and the excellent cast led by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams.

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