Movie Review: “Spotlight” – Fully Exposed

Written by Matt Butler December 31, 2015

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Why do we watch movies? For me, it’s all about escapism; seeing the world through another lens, where everything happens for a reason, everyone has a purpose, and life makes sense. You could say I come from the Spielberg school of thought. But, yet again, I’ve seen a movie that butts heads with my initial perspective. Spotlight, conversely, left me cold, conflicted, but most importantly, informed.

Spotlight details the true-to-life investigation by the Boston Globe journalist team, Spotlight, into the Roman Catholic Church’s covert history of child abuse. Their research, beginning with the pedophile priest, John Geoghan, leads them through a line of cases that extends three decades with over 70 priests involved.

“They knew and they let it happen!”

Now, I’ve seen my fair share of biographical films, but Spotlight is an entirely different beast. You see, most biopics will carry the distinction “Based on a true story” without much fervor; it’s more of a formality than a dedication. Usually, the cold-hard facts meet half-way with the dramatics of the screenplay. Is there anything wrong with this? Not necessarily. In fact, Steve Jobs, one of my favourite films of 2015, contains almost entirely fictionalized dialogue, even though it works off of true events, but the dialogue is so engaging that it doesn’t even matter. Really, it depends on the story you’re telling, and whereas Steve Jobs was about the mythicism of a legendary innovator, Spotlight is about the critical exposé of 87 pedophile priests. This gives the film utmost urgency to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth (so help me God). This fervent candidness exchanges witty dialogue for straight-forward relays of information.

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them. That’s the truth of it.”

That’s all this film is, an honest deliverance of the bitter truth. There’s no art to the way it’s told or how the scene is shot, it’s just a straight up, no beating around the bush account. Which made me wonder, why isn’t this a documentary? What could possibly be accomplished in a movie narrative that couldn’t be done in a straight-forward documentary? But then it came clear. This information is too critical to only be shared with a limited audience. Placing Spotlight in the mainstream, toting names like Ruffalo, McAdams, Keaton, and Schreiber, and ending with an extensive list of the priests involved makes the film’s central intent clear as day: get the message as straight as possible and to as many people as possible.

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I have immense respect for Spotlight sticking to this apparent principle. Given the subject matter, any other route seems almost disrespectful. That being said, I admit that the entertainment value of Spotlight is almost non-existent. Again, this comes from the show-don’t-tell, Hollywood blockbuster mentality, but for me, Spotlight was a real bore. The omission of any artful visual storytelling or compelling dramatics makes Spotlight’s procession very sluggish at times, you know you’re being fed important information, but it’s still hard to swallow which, again, is likely the intention. The most affecting scene though is when the victims come forward with their stories. The shakiness of their voices and their awkward composure compliments the life-long effects of their suffering. In a film teeming with realism, this scene is the most jarring.

“We gotta show people that nobody can get away with this; Not a priest, or a cardinal or a freaking pope!”

I must make it clear that when it comes to movies, respect and enjoyment are not one and the same for me. I can admit to feeling listless by Spotlight’s second half, but still admire its keenly candid attitude to such a serious story. Spotlight gives exposure to a side of the story often overlooked: the honest, hard-working reporters who seek the truth just as much as their readers do. If nothing else, Spotlight follows through with its promise. I recommend this movie to anyone tired of the sentimental and just looking for a straight-up full-on exposure of the truth. You won’t feel good leaving the theater, but you’ll feel wiser.

My Rating: 7/10

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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