Spotlight arrives in the UK amidst much speculation that it could win an Oscar this year. It’s easy to see why. This true-life tale of the Boston Globe’s attempts to lift the lid on a despicable case of corruption, perpetrated by the Catholic church, would be riveting stuff even if it wasn’t based on a true story.
The title refers to a four-person team of reporters charged with seeking out stories of special interest to the residents of Boston. When they hear about an adult victim who claims to have been molested by a Catholic priest back in his childhood, and moreover, complaining that his appeals for help went unheeded, they begin to ask questions. But right from the start there are potential problems. Boston is a staunchly Catholic community, so there will be many who would prefer things to be kept under the carpet. Furthermore, it’s 2001 and the newspaper industry is struggling with the depredations of the internet. A new boss, Marty Baron (Live Schreiber) has just been appointed and many people in the industry are worried for their jobs. But Baron recognises a potential scoop when he sees one and assigns Walter ‘Robbie’ Robinson (Michael Keaton) and his team to do some digging. When they do they are increasingly amazed and horrified by the scale of the subterfuge. Could there really be as many as 90 paedophile priests in Boston alone?
The film expertly avoids sensationalism and drives home the message that such investigations are the result of months and months of donkeywork, reading through endless files, knocking on doors, pursuing every possible lead. There are excellent performances from Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Stanley Tucchi, but this is an ensemble piece, with not a weak performance to be seen. The film’s conclusion, when the full scale of the problem is finally uncovered, is frankly staggering and will surely make the most committed Catholics question their faith in an institution that will go to such lengths to harbour the guilty. It’s important too, to mention, that the Spotlight team are not presented as four saints in shining armour, but as committed reporters who will go to any lengths to get their scoop.
Shocking, but compelling, Spotlight has earned its place as one of the films of the year.
Jake Gyllenhaal is always an interesting actor and, in Southpaw, he’s pulled off yet another transformation, piling on the muscle and jettisoning his good looks to play light heavyweight boxer Billy Hope; indeed, it’s hard to believe this is the same actor who gave us the creepy, emaciated ambulance-chaser he portrayed so brilliantly in Nightcrawler. We first meet Billy as he grimly holds on to his title belt in a bruising, bloody confrontation with a much younger fighter. The boxing sequences don’t really compare with the mesmerising, almost dreamlike sequences in Scorcese’s Raging Bull, but they’re nonetheless realistic enough to make the more sensitive viewers wince. But fate is waiting in the wings for Billy. When his wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams) is accidentally shot dead in a fracas at a charity event, Billy finds himself on a slippery slope downhill as, in quick succession, he loses his licence to fight, his home is repossessed and his daughter, Leila (a winning performance from Oona Lawrence) is taken by child protective services. This is all harrowing stuff and director Antoine Fuqua mines it expertly for maximum distress; at several points I find myself tearing up. Can Billy ever find redemption and rebuild his career? Hey, is the Pope a Catholic?
It has to be said that from this bleak first third, the film enters a very familiar trajectory as Billy teams up with washed-up-boxer- turned-trainer, Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), who quietly guides his protégée back to the top of his game. (Anyone who’s seen Rocky, will know the form. In that film, Burgess Meredith did pretty much the same with Rocky Balboa.) Whitaker manages the role with his customary skill and there’s a surprisingly decent turn from 50 Cents as a mercenary boxing promoter (who ironically declared his own ‘strategic’ bankruptcy recently – is this where he got the idea?).
Maybe Billy’s fall from grace is a little over the top – could anybody as successful as Hope fall quite so fast and quite so hard? And maybe his path back to championship fitness in just six weeks is a little too easy, encapsulated as it is in a perfunctory training montage. But nevertheless, the final confrontation is compelling enough to keep you on the edge of your seat till the final count.
All in all, this is decent entertainment with a distinctly gloomy edge.