I think I’ve found my new conversation killer.
When talking to people I don’t know very well conversation tends to turn towards film, what with it being one of my main passions and all. Every now and again, a film will come along that I’ll get so geekily excited for that I can’t stop talking about it. I’ll go over all the insanely cool yet utterly unimportant things that made me fall in love it for so long that the other person ends up backing away to the other side of the room.
Spotlight is without doubt my new conversation killer.
Spotlight is the story of the Boston Globe newspaper investigation in to the child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church. Based on true events, it follows the lives of four main reporters (plus a couple of higher ups) who take one column and follow it through, pulling apart every thread and possibility until they have reached a story satisfactory to make the difference they were looking for.
If it sounds like your standard Oscar-y drama (I swear I won’t go on about awards films again) then congrats, it does. But actually, it plays out more like a thriller, even though not a great deal actually “happens” (or at least in a stereotypically film way).
The whole thing is written and shot in such a manner that it all feels so tense and fast-paced, as conversations bounce around and people rush to piece together this incredible yet indispensable story. I spent the whole film on the edge of my seat, almost waiting for that scene where someone gets hit by a bus or taken out by a hitman. It feels like that kind of a film, but it never comes. It’s nothing but a bunch of people attending meetings, answering calls and researching case files, but it’s so unbelievably exciting. It just goes to show how good writing, direction and acting are far more valuable than a million CGI exploding helicopters.
And good God, the acting. All the signs were there with the cast, but it is just outstanding. It’s hard to place your finger on what about them is so fantastic, but that’s acting at its best. This may be the best I have seen of Mark Ruffalo, and I left the theatre grateful to the world that we allowed a late career renaissance for Michael Keaton. The man’s a treasure.
That said, great acting is nothing without dialogue to push it through. That may sound like the normal hyperbole of someone who thinks he’s a writer, but here it really makes its mark. The characters speak like human beings. Sometimes they talk over each other, but they never over-explain anything to someone who already knows the background, just to keep the audience up to par. It’s also really quick, snappy dialogue, but not in that Aaron Sorkin “look how smart I am” way, just “human conversation” way. It’s wonderfully written.
Strangely, however, I think I loved it as much for what it didn’t do as what it did.
It isn’t overwrought in any way. Given the subject matter is the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic church, the temptation must have been to really wring every last bit of emotion out of the story. It’s a film that, in lesser hands, could have been really dense and battered you over the head with the importance of the story (like how the trailers for Concussion make that look), but instead plays it quite matter-of-factly. The story is the story, and any attempts to dilute it with sentimental bullsh*t would have cut itself off at the knees.
One way in which we see this is how the bad guys aren’t made out to be super-villains. There’s nothing worse than a film “based on a true story” that has these cartoon baddies with zero redeeming features (or any feature beyond “greed”, usually). They’re always laughably evil, doing bad things because they’re just generally sh*tty people. Not so in Spotlight. While the bad guys are actually kind of vile, the film doesn’t go out of its way to portray them as such. The subject matter is such that we know where the bad guys are, and instead rather treats the whole thing like the situation is the antagonist, rather than any one individual.
The other side of this, thankfully, is that the good guys aren’t portrayed as superheroes either. It’s fairly common in these films to see the good guys as saints (no Catholicism-related irony intended), but here they are just people who are trying to do the right thing and sort of get a good story. They’re also kind of a mess and are generally pretty flawed. They’re people, as is the case with the “bad guys”. In real life, very few people are just bad, like how people are rarely just good either. We’re a tapestry of decisions, some good, some bad, and we live by the consequences of such. Brilliant.
I could keep going. I’m stupidly excited at the lack of a love story, or that no character made an impassioned plea to someone based on lessons learned. In fact, there’s only one scene that can really be filed under “impassioned”, and there the guy giving the speech is actually proven to be wrong. How often do you see THAT in films?
But ultimately, this is a film that treats you like an adult. It’s not always the easiest to follow, and you probably couldn’t see it with a hangover while checking out your Twitter page, but if you stick with it you’ll certainly be rewarded. It trusts that you are a fully-functioning person who can track the progress of a two hour film without hitting you in the face with plot recaps. It may throw names and plot points out there and expect you to keep up, but why shouldn’t it? It feels real, and feels like it was made for whiners like me who moan that films are too simple now. It’s so refreshing.
So if we should bump in to each other at a mutual friend’s party one day, please allow me to apologise for how much of your time I waste talking about this film. But believe me when I say it’s so worth it.
Spotlight Rating: 10 hours boring people about this film out of 10.
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