Film Review: Spotlight (★★★★)


Spotlight One SheetSeconds after the credits for Tom McCarthy’sSpotlight” roll, an overwhelming feeling of changing your career takes over.  Is film criticism really where I belong?  What important, life-changing story am I not writing about?  Truth is, quite a bit of classic films give off that same feeling.  “Rocky” made a bunch of our fathers and older brothers go for a morning run and drink raw eggs.  “Rudy” made us want to go out and play Notre Dame football.  “Spotlight” makes you want to go down to your local courthouse and search the public records for clues.  Then, get on the phone, with a pen and a pad, and start asking some really tough questions.  Honestly speaking, “Spotlight” is the best investigative news drama this century.  Matter of fact, behind “All the President’s Men” and maybe “The Insider,” it’s among the best ever made.

“Spotlight” tells the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

Where you must begin, with any praise for the film, is the audacious and fortifying script by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer.  The two create cinematic magic in their articulation of words, characters, and narrative storytelling.  Each person feels authentic.  Each scene feels rich and equally important as the last.  And most of all, it’s the tightest, most satisfying film from beginning to end, seen this year.  From minute one, you’re hooked, up until the last second, where they decide the last words spoken should be, “Spotlight” is astonishingly crafted.

I’m still in shock and awe that Tom McCarthy is the one who made this.  This is a writer/director who I’ve appreciated but didn’t have the “love” factor surrounding any of his films.  Paired with an outstanding cast, co-writer Josh Singer, editor Tom McArdle, cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi and composer Howard Shore, Tom McCarthy gets a chance to create his masterpiece…and succeeds.  He makes brilliant artistic choices, such as letting a Mark Ruffalo letter reading play over a 2-minute taxi car ride back to the newspaper.  McCarthy’s direction is one of the best directorial efforts from any filmmaker this year thus far.

markruffalo_spotlightAll the players performing are top-notch but walking away, best-in-show, is the performance of Academy Award nominee Mark Ruffalo.  Ruffalo exhibits his best screen performance to date, and makes a stake in his claim for the Oscar this year.  Weirdly reminiscent of Joaquin Phoenix’s work in “The Master,” Ruffalo builds his ‘Mike’ from the feet up, giving him his own characteristics that I’m not sure McCarthy and Singer set out to do.  His expressions in words, mannerisms, all encapsulate the magnitude of his work, bookended by an explosive scene that brought tears to my eyes.  Think back to Emma Stone’s acclaimed work in “Birdman,” and the scene that made everyone notice.  I wanted to simply applaud.

Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams, who play “Robbie” and “Sacha” respectively, are attune with their characters and destinations.  Each bring strong sensibilities and sensitivity to their roles that desperately call for them.  Hotly worked into the story is Liev Schreiber as a newly appointed Editor, that in the little screen time he’s given, makes a long-lasting impression.  Stanley Tucci is also afforded the same opportunity, and gives one of the film’s best monologues.

If there’s a film this year that feels like an Oscar-winner, “Spotlight” sure does make a compelling case.  Dramatic, heart-pounding, and necessarily made.  It’s one of the most important films this year and probably THE BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR.  The Telluride tradition may continue.

Spotlight” opens in theaters November 6 and is distributed by Open Road Films.