Gripping Journalism: SPOTLIGHT
With movies like All the President’s Men, Network, His Girl Friday, Deadline USA, The Post, Spotlight, and Bombshell, or TV shows like the Newsroom, the news media has facilitated an interesting scope into our culture’s values, dishonesty, and secrecy. Freedom of the press in the United States is legally protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution and given the stature of a free country and the political arena that pledges the safekeeping of its’ contingents’ power is certainly a lethal tango. To be persuaded versus questioning one’s ethics will always be a dilemma, and movies thrive on this conflict and the drama it creates just as much as reality has come to regurgitate it many ways.
As we journey into the era of COVID, and things yet again shift, it’s an opportunity to look deeply into investigative journalism again. Like really dive into it, because I imagine years from now people will be studying this historical shift in time. The key players, the decisions, and the altering effect on human kind. Think about how everyone is so fast to report numbers on a daily basis, or how advertising has altered their messages with phrases like, “We’re in this together” or the dreaded “new-normal” crusade. Can we all take a pause and ask ourselves what this really means? I don’t know about you but personally, part of me is infuriated, reading the accumulating headlines all I can surmise is an uptick of civil disobedience is on the horizon when your headlines begin with “Protests spread” or “Protestors assail” etcetera. And I know, you’re all going to ask what does this have to do with a cinephile’s movie review? I went back and forth figuring out what film justifiably personifies the true heart and soul of journalism and it's integrity. It’s one that foregoes the fancy frills that often puts butts in theater seats, yet with it’s reserved aesthetic and mundane spirit to follow the facts by defying the powers at be who fight like hell to keep a splintered reputation in tact hauls out a heartbreaking truth into to the harsh light of day.
Tom McCarthy’s SPOTLIGHT won the 2016 Oscar for best picture, is a perfect example of what investigate journalism is about or was about when newspapers still fought for moral reasons. It's a story about telling a story, honestly and authenticity. This isn’t the kind of storytelling that would necessary sell fast but it’s longevity can be considered monotonously virtuous, because you have to go to great lengths to uncover the truth which requires patience, focus, and discretion. Something that’s very lacking in our current climate of media reporting. Everyone wants the story fast, and now which often results in poor judgment of not reporting the correct facts, which has always been troublesome to me. Did everyone forget that old wise saying, "Slow and steady wins the race”? Especially when covering a story as massive as the sexual abuse scandal of the Catholic church in Boston, which would further have a crippling effect as is pointed out when not just publishing a story on a few priests or a handful of parishes, but the whole system that attempted to bury it. It's all about getting to the system.
This film has gumption as it's a story about a story but what I admire most is it doesn't cinematically attempt to be something it's not. Sure it uses montage to push the story with a little gusto and a sparse musical compilation by Howard Shore gives it an honest touch. McCarty has a low-key style and in it is something that's contrived in the ability to solely concentrate on the facts, swaying very little drama in the mix. It's not necessarily about the personal drama of the lead characters, but an introspection on the actions held against those with power and those without it, almost like a surreal game of chess. Exceptional journalists can survey the chessboard as if it were their story adhering to being proactive and reactive, that's key.
Much of Spotlight has some key subtle moments that bring the emotional impact without words such as the scene with Mark Ruffalo, who plays Mike Rezendes the writer of the actual 2002 article is when he stands in the back of a church listening to choir practice singing "Silent Night". The expression on Ruffalo's face, while a medium close up of the choir involves this sense of protectiveness. He knows innocent children's lives hang in the balance of such a despicable mess. It's such a key moment that continues to build his tenacity in unsealing those vital documents. Or the moment where Rachel Adams character goes to church with her nana. The camera focuses in on her conflicted expression; to believe in something as a Catholic does while uncovering the dirty truth behind the men of such an institution. As also noted in another scene in a phone conversation with Rezendes and Richard Sipe is quite a poignant assertion, being that Sipe has studied the behavior of priests for 30 years os when he says, " The Church is an institution made of men. It's passing. My faith is in the eternal. I try to separate the two." It really gives insight into such an internal conflict of one's own faith. Practically, spot on for those who are actually Catholic. You're faith has been shaken to the core, how do you deal with that on a spiritual and personal level? This film again brings that to light.
This film does anything but shy away from showing you what hard work looks like,as it shines it's focus on a topic far from glamorous, far from entertaining, but serious. And with a serious tone, the colors follow in mute accordance, basic set design, direct dialogue with moments of deep introspection and troubled emotions. It's unique in many ways driven by the characters action but also by the heavy use of exterior shots of churches that dominate the frame as a place of safety undercut by the questionable power it still withstands. It's like it subtlety hits a nerve in a very straightforward fashion, even as I've seen this film a handful of times, it still captures a sense of anguish, disappointment, and deep conflict. The other moments where the camera pushes out the when the Spotlight team learns there are more than 13 priests. The full scope is expansive and the camera work really justifies the choice because now the problem has become bigger just as the frame widens. This of course changes later on in the film, when the team has narrowed down their work and finally receive a degree of confirmation, as the camera subtlety pushes in to key in on the focus impenetrable proof. Its mesmerizing watching the camera do it's thing in various scenes, so much so I'd consider it a monumental achievement, cinematically speaking and if you juxtaposed it with Spielberg's THE POST, I'd still say SPOTLIGHT understands it's own reality under the scope of entertainment and I feel like that's a challenge to pull off and makes honorary sense why it won best picture.
Now my only lingering question, going back to our era of COVID, is can journalists please still be objective, with credible sources, while not exploiting the emotional heartstrings of our vulnerable society? Sensationalizing the news with such tactics of fear-mongering for profit will do very little for the overall health of humankind. You got us standing 6 feet apart, wearing masks, making us stay at home, most if not everyone has been in compliance and as much time that has passed, it's time to understand the hard cold facts without getting emotional.