Spotlight: a dull, drama-less wallow in misery

Charlotte Gill

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There are bad things in the world. But not every bad thing needs a film about it.

Someone should have told the producers of Spotlight, a piece of Oscar bait that’s dull, uninspiring and does little more than tell you that something bad happened.

It’s based on the true story of a group of journalists who, while working for the Boston Globe in 2001, began a campaign to expose the extensive child abuse carried out by Roman Catholic priests in the Boston area. The plot is as follows: the journalists expose the paedophiles. Everyone is horrified. The end.

That really is just about all there is to Spotlight. In fact, nothing much happens in it at all, other than the journalists tracking down the Catholic priests, interviewing them and documenting their crimes.

Of course, people should be able to make films about bad things. But there has to be something else to it – intellectual analysis, parallels in the plot and nuanced editing. It is not enough simply to record, like a documentary, a series of events; the writing and direction must also bring something more out of the material. Otherwise it doesn’t really do justice to true events.

This is a shame, because Spotlight has a stellar cast – with Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams as reporters. I have never seen such a waste of talent. None of these characters has any personality. Ruffalo is the only one who puts any energy into his role, but he comes across as brash and sanctimonious – pouting away with every fresh priest allegation. There is no interplay between the journalists – no romance, tension, nada.

Spotlight is incredibly one-sided. Rarely do you come face-to-face with the enemy – namely, the priests. Yes, they were evil – but that doesn’t warrant their omission as characters in the story. What’s more, it deadens the film’s impact. In Spotlight, the protagonists largely react to letters, victim testimonies and two-minute interviews with elderly priests, which means the horror of what went on never really hits home.

As Spotlight is about paedophiles, many will be loath to criticise it, lest they be accused of trivialising paedophilia. And that’s a problem with a moralising movie of this sort: its subject matter seemingly exempts it from harsh judgement.

But, in the end, it is just relentlessly miserable for the sake of it. It’s a film that forgets its function as drama.

Charlotte Gill is a writer and blogger. Follow her on Twitter: @C_C_Gill

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