Catching up on some of the early 2016 UK releases, Lee checks out the Best Picture winning Spotlight.
Like the film in question, let’s keep the critique straightforward; simple. Content-wise, Spotlight is a bold film tackling a terrible subject and, using dignity and grace, it happens to be one of the few times where the story doesn’t feel exploited by the money-hungry Hollywood machine. There’s no side-stepping of the issue, it tells the story of the work of these brave journalists with admiration for their cause and a level-head when discussing their own humanity.
How it weaves arcs and stories through these events, but has the restraint not to make anyone or anything the bigger issue than the real accusations at hand, makes a good case for great filmmaking. The dialogue never feels forced or cinematic, the people rarely larger than life, the performances all surprisingly low-key and, while it does have villains and dubious heroes and drama and challenges and all that stuff that doesn’t really happen in real life, it manages to condense the positions enough to feel as close to reality as it can, enough to let you know this happened but it wasn’t a cake walk getting the truth out there.
That said, for all its restraint and all the decisions it makes right, there is always an underlying feeling that this story could be told better, somewhere, in another form. For all the concessions made to make this story fit into cinema, the skimming of details to keep a tight runtime ultimately robs it of a lot of its insight and tribulation. It’s not a question of whether the story fits into the form, it does and does fine, but it is not a story that feels natural to the form.
A little research (and probably a notable credit at some point in the movie) lets you know this screenplay is adapted from a novel based on the accounts of those involved; this makes perfect sense. Letting the story breathe, getting into the heads of the people at that time and getting as close to first-person accounts as possible can only vastly improve our understanding of how difficult these actions were.
We must praise the film for bringing this story to the cinematic medium however; the more accessible this particular story, the better. And it is not wholly without substance in the filmmaking, if anything it might work as an example as how to most effectively tell a long story, getting across all the key points and themes and issues without compromising on their power. Yet, no matter the subject, we must look at the film itself and what it says about the art form beyond its content, and in this case we get efficiency, but not any innate compatibility.
Not that that should stop you from seeing this; it is a great watch, arguably an important one. But there are few reasons to watch it twice and, if you can manage, this almost certainly should make for a better read than a better film.