Filmbusu Treeview is a weekly collaboration between Tembusu Treehouse and Tembusu College’s Filmbusu, where Treehouse writers give their take on Filmbusu’s pick of the week.
Director: Tom McCarthy
Producer: Blye Pagon Faust, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin
Screenwriter: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams , Liev Schreiber, John Slattery
In this cinematic retelling of the Boston Globe’s 2001 Pulitzer prize-winning investigation of sex abuse allegations against the Boston Catholic church, director Tom McCarthy shines the spotlight on the story of the victims and journalists who brought these abuses to light. The film won the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, and the Screen Actors’ Guild Award for Outstanding Performance for a Motion Picture.
It is a story told time after time, in Singapore and abroad. In the complicated and loaded relationships between the church, state and society, what happens when one betrays the trust of the other? And what happens when the institutions that are supposed to protect the weak use their powers to shelter the powerful?
Spotlight establishes its themes and motifs fast and early: the very first scene takes place in a police station, where the police and state prosecutor are collaborating to prevent the press from finding out about the priest who was being held for child molestation. This attempt to hide the truth is immediately contrasted by the next scene with the introduction of The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team, themselves struggling with financial difficulties.
Following in the tradition established by Aaron Sorkin, Spotlight is a story of competent people at work. There are no establishing shots, no fancy camera work. The story is deeply human, and the cinematography reflects it, always following and focusing on a person, taking the opportunity to show the faces of those who are talking, and seizing the chance to punch into a close-up shot of the subject. The movie must not, however, be confused as being bland and by-the-numbers. Everything – from the faded colour balance to the grey and dull aesthetics of an early 2000s office – brings to attention not only the time and place of Boston in the early 2000s but also highlights the exemplary performance of the cast.
The exposition is three-fold and entirely told through conversation. The first level is that of the Spotlight team’s understanding of the child abuse scandal, gained through interviews and fact-finding. The second level is that of the victim’s story, which is kept under the rug at the start of the movie and then slowly uncovered as the movie progresses. The last is that of the emotional toll of covering such a sensitive topic – a reflection not only of the journalists’ psyche but that of the greater society. We never actually see the reaction of Bostonian society the movie, as the camera cuts just as Boston wakes up on the morning of printing.
The movie makes no attempt to hide its biases. Like how journalists treat cases of rape, it does not give the church any airtime to make its case – only portraying the times it tried to intimidate and undermine the investigations of the Spotlight team. Nevertheless, the movie tries its best to portray the scandal in all of its complexity, most notably via the fears of undermining such an important social institution in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
One particular scene which stands out is when a Spotlight journalist interviews a victim of the church’s sexual abuse. With threats of public shaming and intimidation from church officials at the back of their minds, the first-hand account of humiliation and powerlessness from the rape victim strikes deep. Such scenes permeate the movie, creating a tension which stays in the audience’s heart even long after the movie is over.
As any Tembusian who has taken one of Ms Bertha Henson’s modules would know, investigative journalism is a slow process which takes place in fits and starts. Spotlight takes full advantage of this, more so by allowing the actors to act without the pressure to move the narrative along. And in turn, the strong performances from each of the cast creates an intense emotional undertone found throughout the movie. Though the film lionises the team of journalists who broke the story, the movie is very much a reflection/portrayal of good journalism that focuses on the facts and the story
While it may seem by-the-numbers on the surface, the script and direction of the film allow its ensemble cast of A-list actors at the top of their game to shine. You wouldn’t believe that the movie, which mainly takes place in a cookie-cutter office, could be as thrilling as it is.
Who should watch:
Everyone who believes that the stories of sexual assault victims should be heard, and those who want to have a better understanding of how investigative journalists work.
About the Authors
Raymund is a Year 1 Political Science student. He loves both non fiction and fiction books, movies and listening to Jazz during a rainy day. He wants to know more about the world and about himself.
While not buried under books, you will find Reuben digging the depths of wikipedia and reddit for the most obscure of trivia facts. He is majoring in Geography, and has previously written for The Middle Ground.
Ratings system designed by Goh Yong Wee