Spotlight (2015)

*. Spotlight is a sad movie. Not so much because of the subject matter, which is depressing enough, but for the largely unspoken subtext.
*. That subtext is the death of the newspaper industry. Anyone who was in a newsroom during these years — and by “these years” I mean anytime in the twenty-first century — will recognize the funereal tone. The declining readerships. The constant rounds of buy-outs. The shrinking news hole. Newspapers were a sunset industry, and the sun was setting fast.
*. Despite this being the background to the story of Spotlight, and how often it gets mentioned by the real reporters in the supplemental materials contained on the DVD, it’s so lightly touched upon here as to barely be a subtext. I think the tough times are only adverted to, briefly, on a couple of occasions.
*. I don’t know if that was intentional or just part of Spotlight‘s general air of understatement. For the most part this is a quiet movie. Liev Schreiber seems to want to deliver all of his lines without moving his lips, and when Mark Ruffalo’s Mike Rezendes loses his cool near the end it strikes a jarring and I think artificial note. The thing is, journalists are professionals, and no matter how big the story they rarely allow themselves these dramatic moments.
*. I think it’s a shame Spotlight doesn’t address the state-of-the-industry subtext more, as the rest of the film, despite being nicely handled all around, is pretty conventional. As with all such tales of intrepid newsmen breaking a big story, our heroes are up against a corrupt and seemingly all-powerful system. Think the government in All the President’s Men or the tobacco giants in The Insider. There’s a scene here where Stanley Tucci tries to explain to Ruffalo what he’s up against while sitting on a park bench (which is where all such conversations take place). The Church is too big. “They control everything.” We are just on the edge of the cinema of paranoia and the great ’70s conspiracy thrillers, only this time it’s real.
*. Of course the other big change in the news business has been the switch to using digital sources for news gathering. There’s a nice scene here that captures this that’s set in the “library,” which is in the basement of the news building. Nobody can find a light switch and the place smells because there’s a dead rat lying around somewhere. Remember those scenes of Woodward and Bernstein doing their library research in All the President’s Men? Well, this is what that has come to.

*. Such movies do at least help to remind us that there’s always a bigger story behind even the biggest stories we read or hear about in the news, and that hidden forces shape what gets reported in all sorts of different ways. The sad thing (yet another sad thing) is that we’ve become so cynical about news in an age of “fake news” and manufactured consent that such a message only undermines our shrinking confidence in journalism, even in a movie that champions the industry.
*. I like Spotlight, but I’m not that excited by it. The thing is, news dramas, like cop shows and medical shows, form a kind of triumvirate of can’t-miss material. That’s a big reason why they’re so popular on TV (the other reason being that they lend themselves so handily to the serial format). So it’s kind of hard to mess a movie like this up. But the screenplay here, which was on the Black List of best unproduced screenplays, doesn’t seem very special to me, and I have a hard time seeing what makes the film itself worthy of all its accolades (for example, winning Best Picture at the Academy Awards). I think it’s just the kind of movie that critics and award bodies feel they should get behind: socially conscious, relevant, and driven by its script and performances rather than by the latest technology. But beyond these admirable qualities I don’t think it’s anything special.

21 thoughts on “Spotlight (2015)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    I thought this was a surprising best picture winner, from just before the Academy got woke. A workmanlike, well made film, yes, but hardly the most exciting of the year. Print media seems increasingly about getting the pensions paid of the existing staff; those who failed to see the internet coming are long off the premises by now, having doomed these enterprises to death throws.

    I saw this with some of the cast and the real journalists they play in NYC, and it was amusing to see how much more photogenic the actors were than the journos they played. Anyway, cf Dark waters and people seem to like seeing Mark Ruffalo and big piles of files.

    1. Alex Good

      Oscar seems to love heroic journalists. I actually wrote this up a few years ago and when I posted it I realized I couldn’t remember a thing about it. But then I’ve found myself drifting further away from Oscar movies. I can only name a couple of best picture winners from the last five years. I don’t know if that’s a sign of their growing irrelevance or if it’s just me not caring any more. I don’t think I’ve watched the show in a couple of decades now.

      1. tensecondsfromnow

        The best pictures in the last five years were

        2016 Charlie Chan in Paris
        2017 Critters vs Leprechauns
        2018 DC Cab
        2019 Moonlight in La La Land
        2020 Charlie Chan in Paris

      2. Alex Good Post author

        Well, you have to admit that it was impressive the way they digitally restored CC in Paris so that it could win again only a few years later. Deserved an award for technical achievement anyway.

  2. fragglerocking

    I don’t bother with Oscar movies much either they all sound serious and worthy and I like fun and trivial. If I want deep I’ll read a book.
    2016 Spotlight
    2017 Moonlight
    2018 The shape of water
    2019 Green Book
    2020 Parasite.

    1. Alex Good

      OK. I’ve seen Spotlight and Parasite. Which rhyme. And they also rhyme with Moonlight. Coincidence?
      I don’t have any interest in seeing those others. I heard Green Book was actually pretty bad.

      1. fragglerocking

        I don’t even know what Green Book is about. I’ve heard and read about the others though, that’ll do for me. I like the rhyming angle, maybe In The Heights will win this year.

    1. Alex Good

      Yeah, I’ve pretty much given up on them. I just wonder if everyone else has of if it’s just me. Hard to tell given all the other disruptions there have been with the industry.


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