Just over three years ago, I was brought to my first movie screening. It was everything I could have hoped for. No, it wasn’t for a film festival, just a traditional screening for members of the press to see a movie early. It was to help with reviewing before its nationwide release and for me to form a full thought on how to tell my friends and family desperately asking me what to see in theaters. Since that day in 2012, I have been to dozens of movie screenings and never, until now, have I felt the impact of movie instantly after a screening like I do for Spotlight. There are only two times in my memory where I have even left a movie theater thinking, this movie is something special that will go down in history. Those two movies: The Departed and The Dark Knight.
Spotlight, for those who don’t know, is about The Boston Globe’s investigative news team of four journalists who called themselves Spotlight. It focuses on their breakthrough story, when they uncovered the details of the massive Massachusetts Catholic sex abuse scandal.
The cast is as good as it can get. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, Live Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, and Billy Crudup.
Tom McCarthy (The Visitor, Up, The Wire) directed and also co-wrote the screenplay with Josh Singer (The Fifth Estate, The West Wing), but I struggle to call this a movie because it seems so real. And that is one of the many great things about this work of art; it is not a stereotypical Hollywood story. McCarthy tells the tale how he wants to tell it, which is a bold move, but it pays off well.
Instead of changing key details or absorbing the four characters into one or two, McCarthy keeps the main four Spotlight members and all the accurate details. There’s a scene where you see d’Arcy James’ character run out of his home and around the corner and find a house that belongs to a priest who molested children. He goes back home and posts a note on the fridge telling his children to avoid the house. It’s a very powerful scene because the journalists are not allowed to give anybody information on this story until it breaks. In most movies you would see that character removed completely, adding to the impact of one of the central character. That is not done. Each character is as important as the next. You can tell how much research was put into this movie to make sure everything is accurate. You can see it tells the whole story; not just A story, but THE story.
I have my bachelor’s in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School at Arizona State University, and every journalism student or journalist should know the two most important traits when working on a story is lots and lots of research and accuracy. Not only does the Spotlight team fulfill these two traits, but McCarthy and Singer do as well. One could even consider this movie journalism. I would. That is why I like it as much as I do, and that is why all critics alike will eat this movie up.
What will chase away some of the skeptics of this movie is what I found most interesting about this movie and, again, it comes back to it not being watered down by Hollywood executives: it is not Oscar-bait. Oscar-baiting is very common, especially this time of year, which is known as the time Oscar-hopeful movies will be released and so they will be fresh in the voter’s mind when it comes time to fill out the ballot. In the typical Oscar movie you have many “Oscar scenes,” where you know that scene will be the moment an actor will use to campaign for his or her performance. This movie had maybe one scene that will be used as its Oscar moment, but it isn’t even the best scene in the movie. It is refreshing to not see characters go off on a monologue, yelling at the other characters about something crucial to the plot (Aaron Sorkin, take note).
Spotlight premiered at Venice Film Fest, Toronto Film Fest and Telluride all too high praise, some critics calling it an early Best Picture favorite – if such a thing exists. I don’t know for sure if it will win any Academy Awards, but I can tell you two things: it will be nominated at least five times and it will win the BFCA (Critics Choice Award). And it doesn’t matter how good other movies are for the rest of the year, this is my pick for what should win the top prize at the Oscars.
Keep in mind, two of the best journalism movies of all-time, if not the best, were All the Presidents Men and Network. Both were released in 1976, and both did not win Best Picture, but were nominated. Spotlight falls into the same category as those two movies instantly. Just to put things into perspective — All the Presidents Men was one of the biggest contributing factors for why I wanted to pursue a career in journalism. And I would argue Spotlight’s topic is even more important than Watergate. This movie does such a good job of telling the story from all sides and honoring each real-life subject that it’s hard for me to not call this one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen and an instant classic that should be viewed multiple times.