The best way to get a sense of Spotlight is not simply from watching the movie, but from the poster. The cast of names leads down to the title, beneath it are the main characters, journalists gathered around a desk hammering out the details of an earth-shattering story. This is before the internet dominated the scene and where teamwork was the best resource. Like the poster depicts, this is an old-school movie about old-school heroes of the finest caliber.
Taking a page out of great modern films like Maze Runner and Hunger Games, Spotlight is a film about good-looking twenty-somethings wearing cool clothes and saving the day through ominous monologues and running through explosions. Nah, I’m only pulling yer’ leg. Really, it’s about real life heroes shining a light on this cruel world of ours using nothing but intelligence, perseverance and steadfast courage against a modern Goliath, proving all you need to change the world is a bit of hard work and willingness to fight evil. And they did it at the ripe old ages of somewhere between 30 and 50.
In this case, these old geezers include Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Matty Carroll (Brian D’Arcy James) as a team of journalists with Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) and Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery) as their editors, all working together to shine a light on the molestation issue in the Catholic Church. You could say they act as a…lighthouse…or a…stage light.
Sure, they aren’t the Avengers, but what they accomplish is heroic nonetheless, the newsroom acting as their Fortress of Solitude (that’s the Avengers, right?). We get a lot of one-shots of them navigating rows of cubicles having conversations on sources, ethics and in-office jokes like an episode of the West Wing. They exchange notes, hunt down sources and basically do everything you imagine while daydreaming about the glorious, desirable lifestyle of a journalist.
If none of that sounds interesting to you then it would probably be pointless to read further, because this movie is seriously not for you. For the rest of you, hold onto your butts, because we’re about to go up to 88 up in this piece with all the mind-blowing awesomeness this movie has in store.
Not really. I lied. Sorry. I was just trying to pep things up. The reality is that Spotlight never tries to be this immense, epic drama about a groundbreaking time in the world. It’s small for a reason. The movie is all about the people involved working their hardest to let the world know the truth. That may sound epic in thought, but the truth these are normal people simply giving a crap. They cared that much to tell this story of corruption and evil and just worked tirelessly at telling it.
Each of them has their fuel—whether its redemption, looking out for their family or pure righteous justice. Something else is there beyond wanting to use their skills for good that drives them to do what’s right. They’re humans—to say the least—and each actor plays them with compassion and sensitivity.
This is why they’re filmed through normal camera fixtures with average lighting. No frill or pomp that could at all be analyzed and used to make these characters seem larger than life. The most exciting the shooting style gets is when the team is gathered around a desk, learning about a shocking new piece of information, and the camera slowly zooms out, giving space to let the enormity of the reveal sink in.
Of course part of me would’ve loved to see David Fincher or Denis Villeneuve take a stab at the project, with a dark palate, using some kind of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross score to give an appropriate amount of moody heft. In fact, other people may feel the same way and therefore find the movie at fault of being too simple for a modern audience. Instead, master humanist Tom McCarthy got the job, and his fat-less approach to the script and style work perfectly here and would probably make directors like Sidney Lumet proud.
In the end, here is a story much like All the Presidents Men or Zodiac, taking an era-defining event (or series of events) and understands that the story behind it lies within the obsession of men and women who live behind typewriters and computers. They’re not always the most handsome or chiseled but have an admirable tenacity that drives them deep into the belly of the beast, never flinching or flailing in the face of opposition. Not to sound like an elderly man spewing wisdom like, “these modern kids and their hippity-hop-folk-rock and their iron-men and loud bangy-bang motion pictures,” but Spotlight truly is about real heroes whose actions, when exposed to the right young mind, can really be life-changing. They changed the world for the better armed with only pens and paper. Bow and arrow kind of looks stupid now, huh?