Directed by: Tom McCarthy || Produced by: Blye Faust, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin, Michael Sugar
Screenplay by: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer || Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci
Music by: Howard Shore || Cinematography by: Masanobu Takayanagi || Edited by: Tom McArdle || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 129 minutes
Every year has its Oscar-bait. You know of which movies I speak: The Artist (2011), Amour (2012), Selma (2014), Crash (2004), The Reader (2008), Shakespeare in Love (1998), The Theory of Everything (2014), Boyhood (2014), Forrest Gump (1994)… films made almost exclusively to garner awards and hipster-praise from both snobbish cinephiles and even more snobbish mainstream hack critics. Most of the time, the primary aim of these self-righteous pictures is to nab a high-profile actor or actress a long overdue acting nomination, or an oft-overlooked auteur director the Best Director prize, or to “raise awareness” for underrepresented minorities in filmmaking, or “to change the world” by shining an oh so precious light on this human rights abuse or that. Whatever.
What all these films have in common is that they are overrated, and often incredibly so. For a film to be “bait” at awards ceremonies, my definition (and most people’s) requires it to not be nearly as good as people say it is. These films are generally sit-and-talk features, devoid of much cinematic excitement or emotion beyond sheer boredom or depression. Occasional spikes of extreme violence (never action scenes) may be thrown in for exploitative shock-value in order to convince the dimwitted masses or A.O. Scott that this movie is, in fact, really important. Or something.
Now there are plenty of critical darlings that do deserve their acclaim, even if they may earn it for the wrong reasons. Films like 12 Years a Slave (2013), Schindler’s List (1993), and even Birdman (2014) are potent, juicy dramas that would automatically play well during Oscar season unless they were absolutely terrible, but at least in cases like these, they also have cinematic quality to back up their reputation. Spotlight is not one of those films.
Yes, this year’s probable winner of the most overrated, over-hyped, self-important title of the year is the new drama from writer-director Tom McCarthy, the auteur behind such hit films as Win Win (2011) and The Cobbler (2014), starring Adam Sandler. It follows the true story of the Boston Globe’s investigative reporting team, “Spotlight,” which is the oldest continuously operating investigative newspaper unit in the United States, and their efforts to reveal the extensive Catholic priest molestation scandal within and beyond the Boston area. Needless to say, this story was important in revealing just how systemic sexual abuses were with the clergy, particularly against low-income, underpriviliged children in the United States and worldwide. Sigh.
When I first caught wind of Spotlight, I knew this would be one of, if not the marquee awards-bait films of 2015, but believe me when I say I went into the theatre with as an objective attitude and open mind as possible. I watched the film as a film, on its own terms, and let it have its time. I wasn’t too impressed with what I saw.
Now to give credit where credit’s due, the film is relatively well written, well acted, and has snappy, realistic dialogue. It isn’t paced the best at 129 minutes of newspaper mumbo jumbo and awkward interviews, but the film rarely drags and ends on a somewhat dramatic note. Michael Keaton gives a good performance, as do Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, Rachel McAdams, and especially Mark Ruffalo.
That’s about it, though. While most dimwitted audiences will be satisfied enough with the nauseating subject matter, and most critics will eat this shit up, cinematographically speaking, the film is a dull bore. McCarthey’s direction is bland as fuck, and the dialogue grows repetitive once the visuals never change rhythm and each scene feels indistinguishable from the rest. Contrast this film to a picture like The Social Network (2010), The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), or Gone Girl (2014) and you begin to realize how limited and unimaginative Spotlight is. Dialogue-heavy films don’t have to be boring, and dramas aren’t inherently non-cinematic. A great director can take any story, however dull or conceptually empty, and make it interesting. McCarthy is not one of those directors. There’s nothing creative going on in this movie, despite the intriguing source material.
In the end, I’m sure this film will be nominated for no less than seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor (Ruffalo). While an argument could be made for Ruffalo’s nomination, no such argument could or should be made for this film’s cinematic prowess. It presents little, if anything, visually interesting, let alone exciting. Spotlight is just yet another drama produced solely to convince over-educated liberal arts students and self-righteous film critics how important it is by saying it over and over. It’s amazing how little drama so many of these Oscar-bait “dramas” actually have. I don’t have to go through this again, do I? Or this?
See you at the Oscars, Spotlight. I’m sure you’ll rob Fury Road (2015) dry.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Spotlight sports a talented cast who do their jobs well. Ruffalo is the only one who has a fully developed character, but everyone’s likable enough. The dialogue is solid.
— However… this film has as much visual style and substance as last year’s Boyhood, though I suppose it spares us the expense of being three hours long. McCarthy is unimaginative and dry behind the camera, and the film’s story grows repetitive. He makes Bridge of Spies (2015) look exciting.
—> NOT RECOMMENDED
? People still read newspapers back then?