Spotlight (2015)

Spotlight_(film)_poster“They say it’s just physical abuse but it’s more than that, this was spiritual abuse.”

I wrote a piece tracing the obvious parallels between All the President’s Men and Spotlight, two films that I could easily see both shaking the very framework of American society through their very candid portrayal of journalism. When actually getting to see Spotlight the connections became even more prominent. Our narrative begins, not in Washington D.C., but in Boston Mass, 1976. It even goes so far as having a Ben Bradlee connection. Bradlee Sr. worked with Woodward and Bernstein while the Big Throat story was breaking. Of course, numerous years later Bradlee Jr., continuing the family profession, was working at the Boston Globe and becoming an integral part of what was going on there.

But enough with similarities, this film, written and directed by Tom McCarthy, deserves its own personal set of commentary. Spotlight is the investigative unit of the Globe and as such their work is not for the quick news flash, but grinding out long, detailed stories, although at times it takes a while to latch onto a juicy tidbit.

However, a new, rather stiff editor named Marty Baron points the team towards a story where a lawyer is accusing a local Cardinal about doing nothing after he found out a local priest was sexually abusing children. It’s a problematic scenario that deserves a little more time, but at this point, it’s an isolated event. It’s one man’s evil. One man doing nothing to remedy an outlier in the Catholic Church.

What follows is as troubling as it is imperative storytelling. The members behind the Spotlight team are not arrogant, self-righteous people, or figure pointers, only truth seekers. That’s their job, after all. The cast is well rounded and credible while no one figure steals the spotlight, literally. Michael Keaton is their leader “Robby” who has close ties with the community even going to high school across the street. Mark Ruffalo is the integral member Michael Rezendes who not only writes the story but has the important task of trying to needle a local attorney for information and documents that can blow the story wide open. Meanwhile, Sascha Pfeiffer (Rachael McAdams) carries out numerous interviews of her own in this multiple-pronged assault for the truth.

Their investigation looks to victim organizations, lawyers, priests, and a psychotherapy specialist. If it’s not obvious already, Spotlight makes it painfully clear that this is not a story of a few isolated incidents but an entire epidemic. This is the whole country — the whole world. It makes you positively squeamish and it’s perturbing in its brutal honesty. There’s no way for it to be sanitized and that’s indubitably frightening. We should be angry, we should be grieved, it should be abrasive to our senses.

It’s bringing to light an entire conspiracy of corruption. There are no paper trails, evidence is swept under the rug, and person upon person remain tight-lipped either due to guilt or shame. Humanity is drawn to darkness, but we want things to be brought to light. It’s the dissonance of what it is to be a person — the constant battle going on in our own human hearts. This isn’t meant to be about individual finger pointing, but an indictment of a system. An indictment of what we all are capable of. If it’s not being able to maintain the celibacy requirement, then it’s a pastor addicted to pornography, or a man sleeping with someone else’s wife. They’re different scenarios, but the people behind them are all similarly broken.

With the narrative of Spotlight cataclysmic events such as 9/11 shift focus, but they cannot fully distract from the bleeding that is still going on behind the scenes. There’s still a need to get to the root of the problem and they do. Mark Ruffalo’s character talks about having some deep down inclination that he will one day go back to the church and then came the day that all that came crashing down as they prepared to break the story. All his hopes went unrealized. It has to be an abysmal feeling. These are folks living in a secular world and a Church that falters so greatly is of little comfort. God is a distant deity, not a personal one, so it seems.

When the story hits the pavements you know that all hell is going to break loose, but what really happens is that all the pain, suffering, and shame has finally received the spotlight it deserves. The major realization is not that one person is the problem or even that another person is the problem. But the most frightening revelation Spotlight offers up is that we’re part of that problem. That’s tough news to swallow and this is a film that does it with immense credence and poise. Perhaps the toughest moments of the film come when the lights have died down and we see the staggering numbers of just how many cities were rocked by similar scandals. If you’re like me you see cities that are all too familiar. A film of this magnitude begs for some kind of response from its audience. It’s up to the viewer to decide what that will be — whether social, spiritual or something else entirely.

This is a potent film of the highest nature that lifts up journalism as a noble profession, while simultaneously rocking its audience with a real-life narrative of substantial magnitude. I’m not one prone to bloated statements, but this just might be the best picture of the year. Its impact has been duly noted.

4.5/5 Stars

The Station Agent (2003)

220px-Station-agent-posterLife takes all sorts of people. Otherwise, our everyday human interaction would have no meaning, no real importance. But when each person brings something different to the table, that’s when life gets interesting. We need the introverts, the extroverts, and every shade in between. That’s really what The Station Agent is about. It’s made up of a ragtag cross-section of humanity. Each one’s a different puzzle piece and you wonder how they ever got together. But they all get thrown into one box in the sleepy town of Newfoundland, New Jersey, and these people wind up living life together. Maybe it sounds rather banal, but the result is actually quite rewarding. I don’t exactly find trains exhilarating, but if you have somebody to share them with they’re not so bad.

The central character in our film is a train aficionado and reserved man named Finbar (Peter Dinklage). He’s been gifted a ramshackle shack bequeathed to him by the elderly proprietor of the hobby shop he used to work at. They both shared a contentment in silence and a deep affection for trains. Fin has seemingly lost his only friend in the world, and he resigns himself to silence because he assumes that all people ever notice about him is his size. They don’t seem to care about the person inside the body and he doesn’t want to take a chance. But that’s before he meets the genial dynamo Joe (Bobby Cannavale), who runs a coffee cart out in the boonies. It’s absolute torture for such a vibrant personality, and he jumps at the chance to have someone to talk to nearby.

The quiet little man constantly deflects any attempt by Joe to become acquainted and yet it never fazes him. First reluctantly and then wholeheartedly Fin allows Joe on his long walks along the train tracks, and Joe breaks down the barriers. The unlikely pair gets even more unusual when they add middle-aged artist Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) into their ranks after she nearly runs over Fin several times. Like her two new acquaintances, she has personal issues to work through on her own. But that doesn’t mean she has to live life alone, and with Joe being the glue, these three have something going that truly blossoms into friendship.

Two of the other pieces of the puzzle include the inquisitive girl Cleo, who shares Fin’s fascination with trains and builds an instant connection with him as children often can with other people. She’s direct, innocent, and she accepts Fin for who he is. Then there’s Emily (an almost unrecognizable Michelle Williams), the local librarian, who adds another layer to the town’s charm. She is pretty, but also very sweet and open to talking with Fin. Really she’s just looking for someone to listen since she’s going through a pregnancy with a boyfriend who is bad news.

It’s easy to respect The Station Agent because it’s not a story where romance heals all wounds. There are two such moments when the film could have easily become that, but Tom McCarthy has a greater respect for his characters than that. They don’t get caught up in needless romantic entanglements for the sake of drama. Their interactions are more nuanced and sensitive than that. Because Joe might make jokes, but behind that veneer is a deeply caring heart.

Noticeably McCarthy also has a great respect for quiet. His film is full of solitude as much as it is full of human interaction. That might be off-putting to some, but it makes the story all the more powerful, juxtaposing the idle chatter with tranquility. On his part, Peter Dinklage gives a breakout performance as a man who realizes he can let people into his life. Because in life true friendship can form between people of all colors, shapes, and sizes. We have to give out a chuckle when this unlikely trio is sitting on the porch talking about Fin’s love life one last time. Not in a million years would we expect to be sitting there with them enjoying the moment. But it happened and we do. In many ways, it’s a lot like life.

4/5 Stars