With Parasite’s recent sweep of the Oscars, Film Critic Nieve Cassidy feels it’s the perfect time to take a look back at Spotlight – one of the few other times the Academy got it right
There are few Best Picture winners that stay with you after the buzz inevitably subsides. For some, the meteoric rise of Parasite which went on to claim the accolade at this year’s Oscars was unanticipated. With the likes of Sam Mendes’ extraordinary 1917 in the ranks, Parasite was a likeable surprise. Just as we reflect on this year’s winner, we turn to another: Spotlight (2015), one of the most important and pivotal films of the decade. Everyone should see this film, and those who haven’t are in for a wake-up call. Winning both Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture, this film features a well-suited cast which would probably have not come together otherwise. The purpose of the film is inescapable, and the ‘Spotlight’ team’s achievement in exposing decades of child sexual abuse by members of the Catholic Church in Boston in 2002 deserves boundless recognition. In the words of Marty Baron, played by Liev Schreiber: ‘For me, this kind of story is why we do this.’
Headed by Hollywood superstar Michael Keaton, the supporting cast of Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Matt Carroll portray a convincing team of journalists who will not rest until the truth is exposed. McAdams gives an astounding performance as Sacha Pfeiffer, one of the younger members of the ‘Spotlight’ team. Her nomination for Best Supporting Actress was deserved, and should have been a win. Never seen without pen and paper, McAdams is tasked with interviewing some extremely anxious victims. Although other actors in the film give commendable performances, McAdams is the most convincing. Ruffalo plays Mike Rezendes, who takes on a much more chaotic yet ultimately effective approach to reporting. Seeing these different characters find a common approach is a testament to the complexity of the investigative process. Keaton’s Walter Robinson is a calm yet authoritative team leader who must navigate some personal issues in the wake of the Boston scandal. The ability of the actors to portray groundbreaking journalism is just one of the many triumphs of Spotlight.
It also serves as a reminder of why investigative journalists are so important to our society. Stanley Tucci is the unsung hero of the film. His portrayal of Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer battling to deliver justice to the victims of Boston, is admirable. In a convincing Boston accent, his chilling words would resonate with any community affected by sexual abuse: ‘If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.’ The message which this masterpiece drives home is that the voices of the abused deserve to be heard – no matter how long they have had to wait. Most importantly, this film reveals the amount of work that must be done in order to bring about justice for victims of child exploitation. A sense of guilt hangs over each character as the scandal unravels, especially due to the huge impact the Church has had in Boston; the unravelling of a web of lies reveals that many had their part to play in this scandal.
Technically, the film also deserves praise. The chilling, piano-driven score compliments each revelation as the team digs deeper. Something also needs to be said for the use of colour, as the emphasis on the grey skies of Boston lends the film a small-town atmosphere which feels so familiar to many. If anything, this makes the injustices feel even closer to home. The portrayal of the victims and their stories is both shocking and tragic. An explosive performance from victim Neal Huff (Phil Saviano) highlights the urgency of the story. Spotlight is unique in the sense that it makes you feel as though you are part of the investigative process. Director Thomas McCarthy creates a personal and disturbing environment, particularly with regards to the tough conversations had between the journalists and victims. Their lack of trust in the authorities reflects the implications of decades of silencing. Some stories are especially difficult to hear, and their deliveries are a testament to screenwriters Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy.
As is pretty clear, Spotlight proves that the Academy can get it right. A perfectly formed cast along with excellent screenwriting create an unmissable watch that would leave anybody on the edge of their seat. The revelations are designed to shock viewers and remind us that there are always stories left untold.
Spotlight is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.
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