Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Spotlight

Everything matters in art, except the subject, and all bad literature is sincere.

- Oscar Wilde



Alright, I'm not saying 2015's SPOTLIGHT is bad.  Not at all.  But it is not art.  Aside from one pull away shot from a desk and a few moody night scenes I found nothing for the movie to earn that description. This highly acclaimed, based on a true story Oscar contender seeks to be an ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN for the twenty first century.  Writer/director Tom McCarthy also explains his efforts to emulate the 1982 film THE VERDICT.  Both of the earlier movies were straightforward, spare dramas that relied on words and silences to tell their stories.  Perhaps nothing much "happened".  But they were finely crafted, riveting films not merely because of their subjects, important as they may have been.

SPOTLIGHT is all about its subject.  A very important precedent was set in Boston in the early oughts of this century.  A quartet of Globe investigative reporters known as "Spotlight" break not only the local story of the Archibishop of Boston's cover-up of a pedophile priest's heinous activities, but likewise of dozens more Roman Catholic priests across the city.  The story grows and grows. Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) is the Spotlight head who guides his team (Mark Ruffalo, Brian d'Arcy James, and Rachel McAdams), all based on real reporters, to keep thinking bigger.  All are working for Ben Bradlee Jr. (James Slattery, playing the son of the Washington Post ed.) and new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schrieber), who recognizes the story in the first place.

As in PRESIDENT'S MEN, the actors portray driven, sometimes compulsive workaholics whose family lives may or may not suffer for their quest.  Stanley Tucci (who steals the film) plays an attorney for the victims and sums it up: "Never got married.  Too busy.  What I'm doing is too important".   Ruffalo plays Michael Rezendes as what appears to be a slightly crazed, possibly undiagnosed Asperger patient. D'Arcy James (Matt Carroll) is a family man who discovers one of the pedophiles lives a block away.    McAdams is all business but we do glimpse her home life with her nana, who still goes to Mass three times a week.

The film can't help but involve us in its story.  We are there to discover each new shred of evidence, mostly to be found in public records, or at least those the church hasn't suppressed (one dramatic scene involves a plea to a judge to quash this).  A sense of justice hits us when we read the end titles, alerting us that many cases of child rape at the hands of priests have occurred around the world, and been vindicated.  You will definitely look to see if your town is on that list.

The church is generally painted as a malevolent, incestuous organization, though, hey, they do a lot of good for the community saith the defense attorneys who were only doing their jobs when they defended these monsters.  McCarthy's efforts to explore the main characters' lapsed faith is also a bit clumsy and obvious, more elements of a T.V. movie level script.

And while I realize I have used this criticism many, many times,  it is just oh so true of SPOTLIGHT.  It is a fairly well written and acted drama, but only to the level of an HBO or Netflix series.  Now, when you consider programs like The Wire and House of Cards, that's high praise.  But they're still just television.  Although, they're more cinematic than many movies.  They explore themes to levels far more advanced than anything in SPOTLIGHT.  

And the artistry is just not there.  But people love what-you-see-is-what-you-get entertainment.  Formulaic things like Law & Order.  I crave something more. Too many movies are now resembling television.   There is so much to explore about the subject of the Catholic church and its terrible secret, which of course never was one.  Alan J. Pakula took dry facts and made magic in PRESIDENT'S MEN.  Sidney Lumet took an age-old (though masterfully written by David Mamet) comeback story of a drunken attorney and made it elegant and thoughtful.

But no one can argue that SPOTLIGHT is not sincere.

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