Making a good film about journalism isn’t easy, but when done right can be great. The defining example, in what will come as a surprise to no-one, is the 1976 film All The President’s Men, and the golden rule of such films (and of journalism as a whole) is that journalists tell the story, they don’t make themselves the story. It is the steadfast sticking to this rule that makes Spotlight, the latest film from Tom McCarthy, such a resounding success.
Starring an ensemble cast including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, the film depicts the true life events that occurred in 2001 when the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team uncovered a child abuse scandal within the Catholic church. The team won the Pulitzer Prize for their work, and the story is a shocking one. The film has been nominated for a total of six Oscars, making it a surprise success during awards season.
McCarthy’s direction is reminiscent of police procedural shows, perhaps unsurprising seeing as he penned the script with Josh Singer, who is known for his work on various shows including Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. McCarthy opts for a relatively straightforward form of filmaking, allowing the story to speak for itself in the starkest form.
The cast are intrinsic to the films success, with Ruffalo and McAdams picking up Supporting Actor/Actress Oscar nominations respectively, though it is a surprise that Keaton did not pick up a nomination for the second year running for his phenomenal turn. Ruffalo is certainly the moral conscience of the film, picking up some of the best lines, but Keaton’s more understated performance is just as affecting.
McCarthy and Singer’s script manages to make quite a dense topic accessible without oversimplifying it, and they also avoid the traps of exageratting the true story for dramatic effect or over-relying on use of the victims to get their point across. This means that Spotlight remains fully grounded in the facts, which are shocking enough on their own. The film is a slow burner, which makes sense considering investigative journalism is built around slowly bringing the jigsaw pieces together.
The film pays enormous detail to its 2001 setting and is hugely convincing in its portrayal of journalism before technology took over. McCarthy has said that at its core the film is about the power of journalism, something he believes has been lost in the present day as we are constantly bombarded with information. It’s a strong message and it raises some interesting questions about the power of the media and how, especially before the rise of social media, select people were in charge of what information went out to the masses.
Spotlight is everything that a film of its sort should be, with a fantastic cast and a story that will make you stand up and take notice, there is a good chance that the underdog at the Oscars could turn out to be a real frontrunner next month.