Some film-references and an accreting list of comments about Spotlight (2015) :
More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
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Whatever its merits or competitors, if Spotlight (2015) is Best Motion Picture of the Year and Best Writing, Original Screenplay, well... !— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) March 1, 2016
* L’enquête (The Clearstream Affair) (2014)
* Mea Maxima Culpa : Silence in the House of God (2012)
* Philadelphia (1993)
* Philomena (2013)
* Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011)
* Howard Shore’s score was inventive and employed a range of instrumentalists – however, at one point, it may have inappropriately suggested a positivity (to the progress of the investigation) that was not in keeping with what, at that point, was being investigated
* Dramatizing the telling of a true story – at best, we forgive such dramatic retellings for the voice that they have given to someone whose trust has been abused and his or her own voice silenced ; at worst, why not a dramatic reconstruction (for those whose choice would not be Mea Maxima Culpa (2012)), rather than having to adapt character and content to fit the inflexible standard notions of the elements of a drama ?
* Misdirection A : With the help of the score, in spy-film mood, to suggest that corruption or ill-will on the part of one or more of those higher up at The Boston Globe might have prevented earlier researches into these issues, but then let that dissipate with a curiously thin explanation, covered by newly arrived editor Marty Baron's (Liev Schreiber's) worthy speech about the rewards of having hindsight¹
* In contrary motion, and questions of billing apart, that purposive importing of notions of suspicion and intrigue is at curious odds with no one much, other than Baron, seeming to have a grasp of what about a story makes it in the public interest, and with how both the methods of investigative journalism and yet a lack of knowledge of worldly ways is portrayed
* As a screenplay that is now acclaimed, it is fine that we have three Christmases established : the latter cases give a sense of time and scale, but the first five minutes or so - which make quite sure that we do not miss the decorations - are hardly necessary, even in a linear narrative, to provide a historical perspective or tell what happened in that time-period
* Generally, the film fails too much just to tell², and chooses instead to show, and, at the same time, it tends to have characters talk, or even arrange to meet, when what is said (in legal terms) is solely for the benefit of an audience of supposed lay people : the characters would know not even to spend the considerable time involved to ask for what, answered in terms of principles of client confidentiality or professional legal practice, is bound to be refused
Probably the best total contribution was made by Howard Shore's inventive and versatile score ? The least by journalists bemused by the law.— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) March 1, 2016
* Of course, one cannot judge how this would appear to those who have not practised law (or banking procedures, in L’enquête (The Clearstream Affair), to those not versed in finance), but surely no such journalist would register surprise at the lack of evidence in the courts of settlements made without proceedings having been issued³ : if agreements could not be made between claimant and defendant without everyone knowing what they were, there would be no point to them
* Misdirection B : A little as with Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films, and as part of generating the sense of suspicion that was mentioned above, we hear that someone’s heart had been in the right place after all (except not only that, if someone is asked to do what he has already done, one would imagine that he would simply say so, but also that he has no reason to claim instead that he cannot, which is falsified by having done what he did)
* Spotlight is about an obviously important subject being covered up, but this award-winning screenplay has its infelicities⁴, and, though it is approach that can work in the right place, does just allow significant characters, such as Marty Baron and Eric Macleish, to occupy some twilight part of the film, from where they are engaged when needed, but then sent back off to the wings
* Yet we spend more screen time, ‘on the beat’, with others, whose contributions seem tangential or to lack a corollary⁵, and who and whose professional roles are sometimes sketchily drawn : even if that were how it was, it even seems something of a surprise that the journalists do not write up the story as a team, but that it falls to Mike Rezendes, working on his own (quite apart, in a film about the lawyerly influence on public life, our seeing Baron, without attorneys checking it over, making the decision about what to print)
* As for real intrigue and a committed journalist who is personally laying everything on the line, though, it cannot compete with L’enquête and how, in a film that is more than twenty minutes shorter (this one is, in places, less well paced), it makes its far, far more complicated networks of transactional and interpersonal information at least as digestible - except that the latter is a French-language film, which still wrongly rules it out for this sort of consideration, and so much more !
In his review, writing for The New Statesman, Ryan Gilbey comes up with other cogent reasons why the film does not work, starting with :
If we sympathise with the heroes of Spotlight, we have delivered some indefinable blow to institutional child abuse, just as anyone who paid to see Twelve Years a Slave (an earlier Best Picture winner) was also purchasing an invisible 'I Hate Racism badge. If we support The Big Short, we have done our bit to avert the next economic collapse, or at least to ensure we can discuss it with authority when it comes. But good intentions are not always synonymous with great film-making.
In The Hollywood Reporter, concluding his review, Todd McCarthy sums up :
In the end, this material can't help but be interesting, even compelling up to a point, but its prosaic presentation suggests that the story's full potential, encompassing deep, disturbing and enduring pain on all sides of the issue, has only begun to be touched.
¹ Although one might infer a submerged plot-line about the effects of hierarchy on having the courage of one’s convictions ?
² At the same time, we hear the Spotlight team talking about what they are working on / what they are being asked to postpone doing, but we are not bothered with more than the necessary traces of the substance of what that is, since we would simply gain nothing by knowing : the film can trust its judgement there, but errs elsewhere with this issue of having to have people say what we do need to know.
³ Or (though this question did not arise), equally, to imagine that the judicial system, where cases have settled out of court, will show the settlement reached.
Head Moonbeam : Also gives opportunities for characterization and tension to develop, leading to a bogus impasse ?— THE AGENT APSLEY (@THEAGENTAPSLEY) April 5, 2016
Moonbeam : On expenses !
⁴ For example, as a matter of tone (whose key does not match), rather than a moment of humour, when the others go down to the basement and, asking what the smell is, they are directed to a dead rat – as if someone would wish to start researching without removing it ? Or why Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) is both asked by Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) whether his surname is Italian (it does not sound remotely so) and, with some disbelief at the answer, where he is from.
⁵ Such as the retired priest, and just on the door-step, being garrulous about having molested (but, he says, not raped) boys in his flock - before being shut up from within.
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Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)