Plot: What’s it about?
Just before the closing credits of Spotlight, we’re given a long list of places where the Catholic Church has been concealing cases of abuse by priests. The list on the first page is long enough, but it keeps going. This is a serious issue, and the basis for this film. It’s the true story of the Boston Globe’s uncovering of this massive scandal of priests molesting young boys. As I put together this review, I realized that it’s something of a process since the film itself is very much about the reporting and process the journalists go through. It’s essential this series of events repeated throughout the film. Nonetheless, the film begins in 2001 when a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) is hired by The Boston Globe. Michael Keaton plays Walter Robinson, the editor of the Spotlight team. They focus primarily on research and investigative articles that can sometimes take months to publish. The next focus is on a case of a lawyer knowing that Cardinal Law was sexually molesting children. We then follow the process of these reporters following leads and trying to persuade people to talk. We get performances from Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup. These are just a few of the more familiar faces the film assembles.
Spotlight was very well received by critics, and while the film has some worthy moments, it’s very much a procedural. Once we’re aware of the film’s approach to things, there’s a bit of repletion to the whole affair. It’s not that it’s a bad film mind you, but rather a monotonous one after a while. Some scenes show promise, but once we’ve seen someone been questioned by reporters, there’s little more that can be essential to this. This is much better than the recent Truth which took a similar approach to things, but it’s as if we’re following someone to work and watching them go about their day. It has an authenticity to it, but I found myself having a hard time caring after a while.
There’s obviously an important story to be told here, and while it’s hard to fault the film for following it closely and accurately, it can’t help but feel like a bore much of the time. There’s a clear problem with the priests and the Catholic Church trying to cover things like this up, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into the most interesting film. As I sat and watched this, I kept thinking how a documentary on the subject matter might’ve been more effective. The cast can’t be faulted as they all do fine work, but it’s the nature of the story itself that finds itself in something of a rut.
Video: How’s it look?
I don’t know what it is about “journalistic” films, but they all seem dated. Granted, I realize that the events in this film are supposed to take place around 2001, but Liev Schrieber’s character looks like he’s right out of All the President’s Men. Or maybe it’s just me. Nevertheless, Universal’s 1.85:1 AVC HD image is just about all you could ask for in a new to Blu-ray release. When you can read the text on the computer monitor, I’d say it contains sufficient detail. We get some picturesque shots of Boston and several scenes in the “pit” with some rather bland colors and stark white walls. It’s not bad looking, just not something that’s stylish. Then again, it’s not really supposed to be. Flesh tones are acceptable, contrast is strong leaving very little to the imagination. All in all, a good-looking picture.
Audio: How’s it sound?
The included DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack is good, but not great. Then again we have to consider the genre of this film; movies like this aren’t really made for dynamic sound. The score has a few moments when it took control, vocals (this is a very heavy dialogue-driven film) are pitch perfect and surrounds carry some ambient sound. I’m…kind of out of things to say about this one. It’s a nice-sounding track that’s sure to please, but it’s nothing too terribly memorable and won’t shake any pictures off the walls.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Uncovering the Truth: A Spotlight Team Roundtable – The “real” Spotlight team reporters reminisce about the story which is intertwined with some clips from the film. Running only 6 minutes, I felt this could have been a bit more engaging, but it’s still interesting to watch…once.
- Spotlight: A Look Inside – An even shorter feature that runs just over two minutes plays out like a glorified trailer. We get a montage of scenes from the film as well as some comments from the cast and crew (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Tom McCarthy).
- The State of Journalism – Nearly identical to the above feature, this has the actors talking about how important it is that the “story be told” and we get pretty much the same montage of scenes from the film.
The Bottom Line
Spotlight definitely tells a story that needs to be heard, but the film itself can’t help but feel dull and unexciting. There just isn’t much suspense to the story or any urgency. There are the occasional good scenes where we see some potentially guilty people questioned, but those are few and far between. The film assembles a great cast and an intriguing premise, but does little with it. A mild rental is the strongest endorsement I can give.