Spotlight reaches India more than a 100 days after its US release, and in its wake are glowing reviews from critics from both sides of the Atlantic, several prestigious international awards and six Oscar nominations (for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Film Editing). Even the harshest critics have acknowledged that Spotlight is a film worth seeing, not least because it is a biographical drama about one of the most scandalous exposes in the history of American journalism.
The film is about The Boston Globe’s team of four investigative journalists (who call themselves, of course, Spotlight) that discovers cases of widespread and systemic child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests in Boston. Their series of articles, beginning in February 2002, blew the lid off a scandal so widespread that it continues to rock the church even today. As shameful as it was for the church, the coverage made the Globe proud: it got a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003.
As a film, Spotlight belongs to the class of Citizen Kane, All the President’s Men and The Insider—great works that show the power of journalism. In a sense, it is better than an all of them—thanks to the top-notch ensemble that more than makes up for the lack of a central protagonist. There is Mark Ruffalo (arguably the greatest underrated actor of his generation) as Michael Rezendus, the main reporter who works on the story; and there is Micheal Keaton (who proved, through his performance in Birdman, that he is the greatest underrated actor of his generation) as the editor who oversees him. Then there is John Slattery (Roger Sterling of Mad Men) as Ben Bradlee Jr, the editor who watches, with dread, the story taking shape; and Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer, a reporter and lapsed Catholic who fears what the story would do to the belief of her grandmother.
And there is Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron, an out-of-towner who takes charge as the Globe’s editor and sets the story rolling. It is amazing to watch Schreiber, a well-regarded but the most lightweight actor in the ensemble, steal the show whenever he is in frame as the shy, well-mannered, humourless editor. In one scene, the journalists submit a draft of their big story to Baron and wait for the inevitable commendation. Baron, sombre as ever, skims through it and circles a few words. “What?” asks Rezendus. “Adjectives,” says Baron.
The editor’s aversion to verbal embellishment is matched by the director’s taut and absorbing style of filmmaking. Tom McCarthy (of The Station Agent fame), is a master of the low-key approach: there is almost no background score, no sweeping shots of the Boston skyline, and the newspaper offices look suitably drab. He shuns flamboyance, keeps the audiovisual noise to a minimum and gives the actors free rein.
Ten minutes into the film, I was reminded of Glengarry Glen Ross, a 1992 drama that shows two days in the lives of four real estate salesmen who desperately try to avoid being fired by their employer. Adapted from a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, the film’s highlight is its razor-sharp dialogues that burst with profanities. Like Spotlight, a large part of Glengarry Glen Ross takes place inside an office room, giving the movie its intended, claustrophobic feel and its actors, a stage to cut themselves loose.
It’s a movie of marvellous performances: Al Pacino got an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor—supporting, because he was upstaged by another, albeit relatively unknown, veteran called Jack Lemmon. And, remember, its tough to out-act Pacino.
Glengarry Glen Ross, however, was a disappointment at the box-office, like Spotlight is. And it did not get its due at the Oscars that year—a fate, one fears, awaits Spotlight. The problem with both the films, one can argue, lies with their title: both the movies borrow proper nouns that are significant within the movie (Glengarry Glen Ross is a farm up for sale). And both the titles fail to do justice to the flavour and spirit of the movies.
Despite all the filmmaking and acting brilliance on display, Spotlight is too generic and too bland a title. Remember, last year’s Best Picture was not named Birdman. It was Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).A high-brow title that would drive Marty Baron nuts.
Director: Tom McCarthy
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Micheal Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci