Monday 1 February 2016


A Priestful Of Dollars

2015 USA
Directed by Tom McCarthy
UK cinema release print.

So Spotlight, directed by actor, writer and director Tom McCarthy.... is not the kind of movie I would normally take a look at in my local cinema, to be honest. With the subject matter being the 2002 scandal of numerous Catholic Priests molesting children that the church was covered up or, more properly, the investigative team on The Boston Globe who brought it to light, the Spotlight of the title, it's really not something I would usually go for.

However, the trailer was pretty good for this one and it had a couple of actors in it, Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo, who I happen to think a lot of in terms of giving strong performances. I could tell from the trailer that the studio were trying to pitch it as a kind of modern equivalent, in terms of atmosphere, to the classic Watergate scandal movie All The President’s Men and I guess, yeah... that’s exactly what this is, in some ways. Although, if I’d known that the film was directed and co-written by the same guy who had written and directed The Station Agent, one of the great modern classics of American cinema, then I would have rushed to the cinema even faster.

Now, this is not a perfect film here, in my book, but it’s pretty close to being one and I have to say that if you want to be on the edge of your seat with a movie that’s based on real life events then this one’s a pretty good choice. It’s apparently fairly accurate to the original events and situations too... as much as a Hollywood movie could be, I guess. According to some quotes from various people who found themselves being played by some pretty great actors, that goes for the accuracy of the portrayal of the personalities in question too, by all accounts.

Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo knock it out of the park, just as I would expect form them. Liev Schrieber, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci and Brian d'Arcy James are all pretty darned amazing too, it has to be said. If you want believability and credibility... not to mention a sense of naturalism that can carry a drama of this emotional weight while still accenting it enough to give it all a broader sense of entertainment value, then this group of actors are very much people who you are in good hands with. If you admire films which can flow forward breezily as you follow the characters in the course of their investigation then this is definitely one for you. It’s the kind of investigative movie that does what it should do... explain what the Spotlight team are after, explain the individual's assignments and then follow through on their detective work with well put together montages punctuated by key excerpts from their interviews. So that’s all good.

One thing which didn’t sit well with me, however, were some scenes... not all that many of them but enough for me to sit up and pop out of the experience somewhat... where the editing of the footage didn’t seem all that great. Not necessarily the fault of the editor, by the way, it might have been the only way to sort out the footage in some sequences. Those sequences in question being some of the back and forth conversations which litter the movie in several places. These are often treated with static shots and the standard TV style of editing where we cut from one shot to the reverse is very much a present constant in some kinds of scene. I also thought the placement of the focus of the eyes on those shots and their reverse equivalent was conflicted and it was the contrast of forcing the eye to suddenly jerk between different areas of the screen at speed in a few places which really started distracting me from what I was supposed to be looking at. Not throughout the whole movie, for sure, but I did find it quite gruelling on a few occasions in there.

The other minor thing, and it is a minor thing, was that I felt that Mark Ruffalo’s passionate, hot headed reporter was somewhat bereft. His wife or girlfriend is mentioned a couple of times but, though we see him in something like a home environment on a number of occasions, we never catch sight of the lady in question. This is even when we see him working on stuff at home at night... when you would think the lady of his life would be present in some way. Maybe I missed a detail in the dialogue to explain that but I think it would have given Ruffalo’s character a little more context if we’d had seen the lady in his life, to a certain extent.

But yeah, minor grumbles at best in a film which delivers the tone and passion you would expect from people being forced to confront the truth of a story rapidly expanding in scope as the Spotlight team discover more about the unwritten conspiracies which have kept the story from breaking in the press over the decades that this kind of abuse had being going on. Their initial story began with just one priest and, by the end of the investigation, there were around 87 priests who had been uncovered.

The film is very sparsely spotted in the musical content and I would have expected this kind of movie to have no score at all but certain key montages and highlights are given a certain emotional presence by Howard Shore’s piano dominant score. At  points it maybe felt a little heavy handed in contrast to the many scenes without music but that’s always a hard balancing act to get right and, where some of these scenes reach for the music in a less naturalistic accompaniment... there’s always another scene where the score gets it dead right. I’ve been a big fan of Shore over the years, especially with his scores to the early David Cronenberg films and Kevin Smith’s Dogma and it’s not a bad match for the movie in most scenes. People who are only familiar with his brilliant scores to the less than brilliant adaptations of Tolkiens works by Peter Jackson may be a little surprised at the modest scope of this piece but, frankly, anything heavier may well have undermined a movie of this nature and even this one threatens that on occasion. I know I wouldn’t normally argue for this, being as I love movie music so much, but maybe the mix was a little more prominent than it could have been in certain scenes but... yeah, for the most part it’s pretty good and it may be a good stand alone listen too.

And that’s what I thought of Spotlight. A pretty amazing movie with some things which irritated me but which in no way put me off the movie as a whole. A brilliant cast and some nice dialogue make for pretty compulsive viewing, in my book, and I wouldn’t be too surprised if there isn’t at least one Oscar nod to this one sometime soon. Definitely worth a watch, as far as I’m concerned.

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