Thursday, February 25, 2016

Selling Papers - Spotlight, Reviewed

This won't be a full-blown review, but Audrey, Fenya and I had the opportunity to watch Spotlight last night, an ensemble newspaper drama based on the true story of how the Boston Glove exposed the systematic shuffling and coverup of pedophile priests. Here are 4 reasons you should watch this excellent movie, and soon.

Powerful true story: This story takes place in 2001, a time when this sort of child abuse was whispered about but could not be proven. Seeing the amount of labour and risk it took to bring this story to light in the face of tremendous opposition is both disgusting and terrifying. The story is not brisk, but takes its time to come to a proper boil, as it should. No time is wasted glomming on additional details about the reporters lives, unless they have a bearing on the story, or, in some cases, if the story has a bearing on them. The internal conflict is palpable; 53% of the Globe's readers are Catholic, and an even higher percentage of Spotlight's staff, who must wrestle with torn loyalties as well as the fear of alienating their readers. John Slattery and Stanley Tucci get great turns as well.

Ensemble cast: Mark Ruffalo has an excellent shot at a supporting actor Oscar for his portrayal of a passionate investigative reporter whose compulsion and eventual anger never feel forced.  Rachel McAdams also received a nod, but her role is more understated and I am not thespianically appreciative enough to see the why of it, although she does well with what she has. Liev Schreiber, who I know mostly for more dynamic roles, is terse and subdued as Marty Baron, the then-new editor of the Boston Globe, who is the quintessential outsider: a New Yorker coming to Boston by way of Miami, who is not only Jewish, but not even a baseball fan. Michael Keaton virtually disappears into his part as Spotlight magazine editor Walter 'Robby' Robinson, and whose portrayal is so spot-on, the real man asserts that if Keaton robbed a bank, he himself would be the one arrested .

Oscar Accessibility: Spotlight is up for 6 Oscars (Best Picture, Director, Editing, Original Screenplay, and acting nods for McAdams and Ruffalo), and we watched it through Video On Demand. If you watch this, Fury Road, The Martian, Bridge of Spies, and Room at home, you can put a whopping 29 nominations behind you without even having gone out to see The Revenant (which is also quite good and would give you another dozen!).

It's Important: In addition to being the best newspaper film in years, Spotlight is a powerful and timely reminder of why an independent press is critical to a healthy democracy. In the movie, Globe staffers are worried about possible job cuts brought on by the new Editor brought in by the paper's new owners, as he had done previously in Miami. Here in Edmonton, PostMedia, the corporation which owns the National Post as well as the Edmonton Journal, recently purchased its struggling competition, the Edmonton Sun. In addition to creating a media monopoly in town, they also amalgamated the newsrooms, eliminating a number of reporter positions.

Spotlight may be the last great newspaper movie for a while; in the face of merciless media consolidation, intense competition from the web, and an ongoing debate about what journalism even means as we march into the 21st century, newspapers are on the verge of being made irrelevant. Outside of the movies, there are more and more communications assets owned by a dwindling number of bloated media giants, most of which are designed to do no more than sell ads and clicks, with fewer and fewer trained and passionate people committed to digging up and revealing the truth.

Viewed from this perspective, Spotlight is equal parts drama, dystopic horror, and perhaps tragedy.

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