The following contains spoilers for Spotlight. You have been warned.
James: Alright, so Spotlight is slowly starting to make its way around the country. The film already has amassed large critical acclaim and early awards heat. Just to get started, what are your initial thoughts on the movie?
Tyler: I loved the movie. As someone who studied journalism, I have a soft spot for “journalists change the world” movies. I was engaged the whole time. What did you think?
James: It really is a terrific movie. Impassioned and intelligent, Spotlight does a wonderful job of getting to the root of its central investigation- sex abuse in the Catholic Church- and pointedly examines why it took so long for it to come about in the first place. It’s a great journalism movie (akin to All the President’s Men and The Insider), but hopefully more accessible than that. It felt like it was paced like a terrific thriller.
Tyler: Exactly. My first thought coming out of the movie is that is was very well paced. One issue I often take with investigative thrillers or journalism movies is that I lose interest in the film as a whole but the script, direction and editing here keeps the film moving at a suitable pace. It’s one of the ways a movie surrounding a real-life event can keep people interested – something films have trouble with when the audience saw the real life story unfold.
James: Something that I have been thinking about since watching the film is whether or not the movie will have the same level of impact on audiences not as engaged with journalism as a whole. You’ve already spoken about your soft spot for “journalists who change the world” (I share that)- did you ever feel that Spotlight was maybe a little too “inside baseball?”
Tyler: It definitely has some of those inside moments – more with the finer details about the “journalist lifestyle.” I think the movie will have wide appeal because, like similar films, it acts as a detective movie. We already know what they find but not from the point of view of the Spotlight reporters at the Boston Globe. In Rachel’s review, she talked about the film’s “outsider perspective,” and how in a way it doesn’t address the effects of their findings on the larger community. Did that bother you at all?
James: It really didn’t. Spotlight is a procedural in the best possible sense. The word “procedural” gets kind of a bad rap due to television (all those Law & Orders and their ilk) but director Tom McCarthy (who also co-wrote the movie with Josh Singer) made a wise decision in keeping the story, the investigation at the center of Spotlight. Since it revolves around sex abuse in the church, the emotional factor, I think, starts on a high and I never felt that “more” needed to be added. We do get hints of the toll this case has on the reporters (Michael Keaton’s subtle arc, in particular, is pretty beautifully handled) and on the characters more intimately involved– the movie does a great job, I think, of handing off individual scenes to terrific character actors portraying both victims and lawyers (many of whom nail very tiny parts). With all of that going on, the movie probably would have become bogged down had we spent any more time going home with the reporters.
Tyler: The one thing I think we can’t accuse the film of doing is lying about its plot/story – that is, about the reporters who revealed the abuse and its cover-up. You and I didn’t take issue with it but some could accuse Steve Jobs of not being about his life – or at least told in a traditional way. As I said before, I don’t think we need a film about the abuse itself as we all saw the story when it happened. You mention the many arcs and I was also impressed with how the film handled them all. Looking outside of the core ensemble, I wouldn’t have minded a little more of Liev Scheriber as the new editor Marty Baron because the film is very much about being an outsider whether it’s Baron, Mike Rezenes (Mark Ruffalo) or even Mitchell Garabedian (Tucci).
James: That’s interesting to note especially since the villain in the story is basically the Catholic Church. Schreiber is excellent in the film- I wouldn’t have minded more of him either- and his character is the one to trigger (or re-trigger) the story in the first place. There’s talk early in the film that Baron is angling to some sort of agenda. While that’s not the most relevant bit as the movie progresses, I wish there was a little more of him. Schreiber does a great job of inserting little character tics along the way however. Speaking of the ensemble- and this is one of more sprawling of the year- do have any personal favorites?
Tyler: I don’t think the movie means for the villain to be the Catholic Church but rather Cardinal Law and those involved with the abuse and subsequent cover-up. Perhaps there could have been a little more positivity surrounding the Church but that didn’t bother me. As far as the ensemble goes, there weren’t any major standouts for me. Rezendes is the closest thing we have to a main character in the film and Ruffalo stands out with the most to do but everyone seems to get their time to shine. I actually really enjoyed that the movie was such an ensemble piece. It was nice not to have a direct audience surrogate to take us into the world but we could pick out different aspects of each character.
James: It was a true ensemble without any sort of showboating which I loved (though Ruffalo does get his little histrionics moment) and I definitely appreciate that we didn’t have someone explaining to us what a reporter is. Picking up a little bit on the Catholic Church being in the villain of the piece, I think there’s actually quite a lovely balance in the movie- it’s subtle, but nonetheless there. All of the reporters at some point quietly reflect on their own faith at certain points, for instance. Villainizing the Church is probably too strong- the villain is an established institution within the Church in which sexual predators were never brought to justice while their victims were faced with a lifetime of anguish. There’s one scene I quickly wanted to address because I admired it for its frankness- the scene in which Rachel McAdams’ Sacha Pfeiffer (a member of Spotlight) comes to the doorstep of a former priest. He directly says he abused children in the past yet is quick to say that he didn’t “rape” anyone and then continues to say he was raped as a child. I found that scene incredibly fascinating and sort of felt an entire film could have served around that one character. How did you feel about it?
Tyler: That scene stood out to me as well. I think many people, particularly those who haven’t encountered sexual abuse either directly or tangentially, think of sexual abuse as a matter of an abuser and a victim where the abuser knows they’re doing a bad thing. Given the cover-up at the center of this movie, that’s likely true in most cases but I don’t think many people ever considered that someone might think it’s a normal occurrence akin to non-abusive fraternity hazing. I would have been interested in a few scenes with McAdams’ Pfeiffer diving in more with that character. Piggy-backing off that scene, I’m curious as to how you felt about the films use of imagery. Throughout the film we see church exteriors to show the strength of the institution- there’s even a scene where a victim acknowledges how strange it is that there’s a children’s playground in front of a church or immediately following the aforementioned encounter, Pfeiffer notices that there’s an elementary school down the street from the house where that victim/abuser lives. Did any of this stick out to you as being obtrusive or “in your face?” I haven’t decided exactly how it made me feel as a moviegoer. Same can be said for the fact that there’s an interview in a bar television featuring Penn State football game showing Joe Paterno -who was involved with a similar cover up- in the background that I noticed right away.
James: I didn’t notice the Joe Paterno cameo- that’s a neat (probably wrong choice of words) little Easter egg. However, overall it felt very lived-in. I never felt bombarded by the imagery- McCarthy utilizes a very casual visual palette, so nothing ever feels overdone. More so, churches in Boston and around the country (and globe) are everywhere. None of it ever seems to be the point or even used to further underline the point. On a completely different subject, Spotlight has appeared one of the early Oscar favorites since premiering at the fall festivals earlier this year. Did that hype have any sort of effect while watching the film and do you think it can go all the way?
Tyler: Thankfully, I feel like I saw the movie before the massive hype, plus I was already excited to see this given my appreciation for movies about journalists. The movie is just hitting its wide release but I haven’t seen much backlash on this one like I did for Steve Jobs, or last year’s Selma. I think Spotlight is a lock because it’s a strangely uplifting movie in that we get to see the cast “right a wrong” by revealing a conspiracy to cover up an immoral crime. It also romanticizes investigative journalism at a big newspaper, something that’s very rare.
James: I had pretty high expectations for this one considering the early reviews. However, it managed to clear them relatively early on- the script is just so sharp and on point here. It will definitely be less divisive than Steve Jobs which should help the film expand a bit better (though I still worry slightly that the non-journalist/press community may hold back a little bit). It seems a lock for a Best Picture nomination at the and a possible win- I think the last shot of the film and the end titles directly after (which include a very long list of cities nationally and around the world where sex abuse in the church has been reported) set Spotlight way apart from the pack. I left the theater with the simultaneous mixture of hope and anger. If nothing else, possibly an Oscar could spur more kids an interest in serious journalism (hey, it happened after All the President’s Men in the 1970s).