Spotlight is a good film. Engrossing, well-acted, and meaningful, it’s the rare film where the known outcome doesn’t lessen the suspense.
A few visual things struck me during the film: director Tom McCarthy (this is his best film, by the way) loves over the shoulder (OS) shots. I can’t remember the last film that used so many. His coverage is often the same from scene to scene: a tracking wide shot often following two people through the newsroom for a master; shot-reverse both of which are over the shoulder; shot reverse punch ins.
The film has a decidedly ’90s feel (despite it being set in 2001) with its clean, white colors, and the coverage feels like that of a lot of legal thrillers from that decade. McCarthy mostly uses those OS shots for spatial organization (there’s an early scene where the four Spotlight reporters discuss the beginnings of their investigation. Only Brian d’Arcy James doesn’t get an OS or a complementary OS reverse. Traditional wisdom would be that he’s somehow being singled out by having anomalous coverage, but it’s not the case: McCarthy just wants clarity over visual “meaning” and James’ location is pretty clear).
It’s a good decision to keep the look easy – anything flashy would undermine the serious content, which, as is, is presented with gravitas and hardly a hint of movie-newsroom winking or irony. All The President’s Men is the obvious, closest cousin here.
It must be nice for a writer to write a script set in a newspaper. There are so many automatic exposition outlets that don’t feel contrived: to work in a newsroom you constantly must be spewing information. Maybe that’s how McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer pack so much into the script without it feeling unwieldy. Another film’s dramatic, visual set-pieces are this film’s long conversations.
Mark Ruffalo’s always been a favorite actor, but I’ve never been aware of his gifts as a physical actor until Foxcatcher and now Spotlight. Here he’s hunched, and instead of those bear-ish arms at awkward 30 degree angles in Bennett Miller’s film, he’s constantly got his hands stuffed into front pockets and he moves like he’s always over caffeinated.
There are a few nice montages in Spotlight – not the kind that I hate that feel like cheap ways to get information across and tell everyone what your favorite song is, but rather, shot series that are well-structured, and show off Boston in a beautiful, albeit rainy, monochrome way. These don’t replace information – they add to it. They don’t build take on the weight of character development – they substantiate it.
In the midst of one of these montages Rachel McAdams’ Sacha Pfeiffer is seen at a table next to an apparent abuse victim. The scene is without dialogue. It lasts probably about 7 seconds. The man is crying. As a director, how do you get that performance? Do you have McAdams and her cameo co-star run a full, dramatic scene in order to get up to the requisite emotion and then cut it down in post? Do you just cast someone who can cry on cue? This has to be a tough, short thing to shoot.
Liev Schreiber is so good in Spotlight. He’s controlled and terse as Marty Baron. His delivery always feels methodical.