Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Run, don't walk, to see Spotlight

 "These crimes were unimaginable, and that they could've been countenanced and enabled by such an iconic institution, it gave us so much energy to pursue the story and get the story and make it public." — Walter Robinson

WONDER of wonders, Paul and I actually went to see a movie in a theater last night. His gig with Parranderos didn't start until 11:00, so we caught an early showing of Spotlight.

It's a phenomenal movie.

Before I elaborate on what I thought of the film, I feel called to add a note of explanation: When I write about restaurants, movies, TV shows, concerts, visiting locales — any sort of a review, if you will, although that's much too grand a word to affix to my musings and mutterings — let me emphasize that it's not that I think what we've experienced is "all that" because WE'VE done it. Although we're lucky in that we always have a good time together, most of our life 
isn't remarkable enough to be of interest to anyone but us, so I don't write about it.

I issue the above disclaimer because I'm about to rave about Spotlight.

Paul and I had not seen a movie in a theater since we saw A Walk in the Woods with Robert Redford, Nick Nolte and Emma Thompson. The movie is based on the book A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail written by Bill Bryson.

Many of us in Des Moines tend to feel somewhat territorial about Mr. Bryson. He grew up here, went to Roosevelt High School and then on to Drake University for a couple of years. Several of my Rotary Club friends lived in the same neighborhood and were great pals of his family. So
 we're proud of Bill, but sorry to say, the movie was stinker. 

First of all, Robert Redford was simply too darned old to play Bill at the age when he wrote the book, plus Redford just phoned it in: he was wooden and dull. In the movie, Redford and Nolte supposedly hiked for months, but Nolte is just as fat as when he started, and their gear never sustained any wear even by the end. There's a shot where Nolte has his feet up near the conclusion of their hike, and the tread on his boots isn't even scuffed.

But enough about that dud (if you haven't watched it, don't bother), let's talk about Spotlight!!

The movie tells the gripping story of a special investigative team at The Boston Globe that exposes a decades-long coverup by the Catholic church of the molestation of hundreds of children by priests in Boston, and even though we know the outcome beforehand, the movie is still riveting and suspenseful. Each cast member delivers a nuanced, believable performance, no one overacts. Mark Ruffalo especially deserves every nomination and award he's received. Adding to its excellence, the music and the way the film is shot and edited enhance the movie, instead of calling attention to themselves which is too often the case. 

Mark Ruffalo with the real life Mike Rezendes

But the thing I loved best about it by far is that it's entirely true.

I have gotten so fed up with "based-on-a-true-story" movies, that I've sworn to never watch one again. (I can tell I've got enough of a bee in my bonnet on this subject that I'll have to write a separate post.)

And that's what makes Spotlight so exceptional: it's truth.

I've attached a review for you from The New York Times and a link to a Fresh Air interview of the real Walter (Robby) Robinson and Spotlight co-writer and director Tom McCarthy. Read, watch . . . then go see the movie! You'll thank me.

Review: In ‘Spotlight,’ The Boston Globe Digs Up the Catholic Church’s Dirt

By A. O. Scott

November 5, 2015

“The city flourishes when its great institutions work together,” says the cardinal to the newspaper editor during a friendly chat in the rectory. The city in question is Boston. The cardinal is Bernard F. Law and the editor, newly arrived at The Boston Globe from The Miami Herald, is Martin Baron. He politely dissents from the cardinal’s vision of civic harmony, arguing that the paper should stand alone.

Their conversation, which takes place early in “Spotlight,” sets up the film’s central conflict. Encouraged by Baron, a small group of reporters at The Globe will spend the next eight months (and the next two hours) digging into the role of the Boston archdiocese in covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests. But the image of two prominent men talking quietly behind closed doors — Law is played with orotund charm by Len Cariou, Baron with sphinxlike self-containment by Liev Schreiber — haunts this somber, thrilling movie and crystallizes its major concern, which is the way power operates in the absence of accountability. When institutions convinced of their own greatness work together, what usually happens is that the truth is buried and the innocent suffer. Breaking that pattern of collaboration is not easy. Challenging deeply entrenched, widely respected authority can be very scary.

Directed by Tom McCarthy from a script he wrote with Josh Singer and based closely on recent history, “Spotlight” is a gripping detective story and a superlative newsroom drama, a solid procedural that tries to confront evil without sensationalism. Taking its name from the investigative team that began pursuing the sex-abuse story in 2001, the film focuses on both the human particulars and the larger political contours of the scandal and its uncovering.

We spend most of our time with the Spotlight staff. Their supervising editor, Walter Robinson (known as Robby and played by an extra-flinty Michael Keaton), has a classically blunt, skeptical newsman style, but he’s also part of Boston’s mostly Roman Catholic establishment. He rubs shoulders with an unctuous church P.R. guy (Paul Guilfoyle) and plays golf with a well-connected lawyer (Jamey Sheridan) who handled some of the archdiocese’s unsavory business. The reporters working for Robby — Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) — come from Catholic backgrounds, and have their own mixed feelings about what they’re doing.

Mr. McCarthy, who played a rotten reporter on the last season of “The Wire,” views journalists primarily through the lens of their work. He follows Pfeiffer as she interviews survivors, Rezendes as he wrangles a zealous lawyer (Stanley Tucci) and Carroll as he digs into long-hidden records, including articles buried in the newspaper’s archives. Though the film, like the Spotlight articles, avoids euphemism in discussing the facts of child rape, it also avoids exploitative flashbacks, balancing attention to individual cases with a sense of pervasive, invisible corruption. Baron urges the reporters to focus on the systemic dimensions of the story, and “Spotlight” does the same. As the number of victims and predators increases, and as it becomes clear that Law and others knew what was happening and protected the guilty, shock and indignation are replaced by a deeper sense of moral horror.

The outcome of the story may be well known, but Mr. McCarthy and his superb cast generate plenty of suspense along the way, and the idiosyncratic humanity of the reporters keeps the audience engaged and aware of the stakes. During the climactic montage — the presses humming, the papers stacked and baled, the trucks rumbling out into the morning light — my heart swelled and my pulse quickened, and not only because I have printer’s ink running through my veins. Journalists on film are usually portrayed as idealists or cynics, crusaders or parasites. The reality is much grayer, and more than just about any other film I can think of, “Spotlight” gets it right.

It captures the finer grain of newsroom life in the early years of this century almost perfectly, starting with a scene in which a retiring veteran is sent off with awkward speeches, forced laughter and dry cake. As the story unfolds, there are scenes of pale-skinned guys in pleated khakis and button-down oxfords gathering under fluorescent lights and ugly drop ceilings, spasms of frantic phone-calling and stretches of fidgety downtime. Not even the raffish presence of “Mad Men” bad-boy John Slattery can impart much glamour to these drab surroundings. Visually, the movie is about as compelling as a day-old coffee stain. As I said: almost perfect.

The Globe itself (owned by The New York Times Company when the film takes place) is shown to be an imperfect institution. The people who work inside it are decidedly fallible — as prone to laziness, confusion and compromise as anyone else. Before 2001 — with some exceptions, notably in the work of the columnist Eileen McNamara (played here in a few cursory scenes by Maureen Keiller) — the paper overlooked both the extent of the criminality in the local church and the evidence that the hierarchy knew what was going on. The Spotlight reporters and editors are pursuing a big, potentially career-making scoop. At the same time, they are atoning for previous lapses and trying to overcome the bureaucratic inertia that is as integral to the functioning of a newspaper as the zealous pursuit of the truth. “What took you so long?” is a question they hear more than once.

To use “Spotlight” as an occasion to wax nostalgic for the vanishing glory of print would be to miss the point. The movie celebrates a specific professional accomplishment and beautifully captures the professional ethos of journalism. It is also a defense of professionalism in a culture that increasingly holds it in contempt.

Mr. McCarthy is a solid craftsman. The actors are disciplined and serious, forgoing the table-pounding and speechifying that might more readily win them prizes from their peers. Everything in this movie works, which is only fitting, since its vision of heroism involves showing up in the morning and — whether inspired by bosses or in spite of them — doing the job.

Click here to listen to Fresh Air host Dave Davies interview Walter Robinson and Tom McCarthy. It's worth your time.

No comments:

Post a Comment