Real life doesn’t fit a movie narrative – real life rarely accommodates twists, dramatic speeches, or neat climaxes. In Spotlight, an excellent return to form for writer-director Tom McCarthy, a true story is presented exactly as it (presumably) happened, for better …and sometimes for worse.
Spotlight follows four journalists (Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Brian D’arcy James) as they pursue the story of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in Boston. The performances are excellent, with the experienced cast infusing their characters with heart, passion and humanity.
McCarthy shoots everything with a you-are-there simplicity. His only directorial tricks are some repetition and contrasting (such as moments from a charity gala cleverly interspersed with a conversation at a dive diner). He generally avoids big sweeping moments or trite generalisations, which makes the rare lapses into schmaltz more conspicuous.
Spotlight is happy to let the specifics of its shocking story carry the film, but sometimes that works against it. No tension exists if you’re aware of the backstory (since the newspaper story was published) and the story isn’t over (investigations are ongoing, world-wide). Telling a true, unfinished story takes guts, even if it doesn’t always result in the most exciting filmmaking.