Review- “Spotlight”

“The city flourishes when its great institutions work together,” Catholic cardinal Bernard Law says to Boston Globe editor Martin Baron, who politely dissents and claims that the paper should stand on its own.

Thus sets up the central conflict of Spotlight, Tom McCarthy’s meticulously crafted drama about the journalistic investigation into the clerical sex abuse and cover-up perpetrated by the Catholic Church of Boston. The screenplay by McCarthy and Josh Singer lands its punches while resisting the temptation to spiral into melodrama or lionize the protagonists. Not a moment is overdone, and every word carries the weight of truth, largely thanks to the near-perfect harmony among directing, writing, and acting.

The cast is outstanding, driving the plot forward with both intensity and subtlety. Every character was fully developed with their own histories, passions, and distinct personalities: Mark Ruffalo’s kinetic, relentless Mike Rezendes; Michael Keaton’s steely-eyed Walter Robinson; Rachel McAdams’s tough but tender Sacha Pfieffer; Liev Schreiber’s sphinx-like Marty Baron; Stanley Tucci’s fiercely honest Mitchell Garabedian. Such an amazing cast could have easily cancelled itself out, but no one chewed the scenery or fought for screentime. Still, these characters are not white knights—they are human. They miss clues, explode in anger, and for years, they even looked the other way while men in their own backyard preyed on the weak. But these are our everyday superheroes, the people who fight for truth day in and day out without begging for recognition.

Fittingly, the film is submitting all of its performers in the “Supporting” categories at the Oscars—there is no lead, and all the characters truly need one another for the film to work.

McCarthy’s direction is subtle but skilled, deftly guiding the viewer’s emotions and attention. Spotlight is a detective thriller disguised as a journalistic drama, joining the ranks of classics like All the President’s Men, Zodiac, and Frost/Nixon. McCarthy created a tangible sense of dread and paranoia, which is brilliantly juxtaposed to the pervasive religious imagery. The brazen Christian iconography throughout the film is absolutely haunting, and a certain rendition of “Silent Night” almost made me sick. A seemingly innocent house on a street corner suddenly becomes unnerving. As our heroes trek through Boston, finding and interviewing the victims, there is always a Catholic cathedral looming in the background—what was once sacred, beautiful, and reassuring is now menacing. That is the power of this story.

Spotlight-Image.jpg

Early in the film, Joe, a victim of sexual abuse by a priest, tells his story to Sacha, simply saying, “Then he molested me.”

Sacha leans in. “I think language is going to be important here,” she prompts gently. “Just saying ‘molest’ isn’t enough. People need to know what happened.”

As humans, we cloak the monstrous in euphemisms. We call it “unspeakable” or “unthinkable”—designations that are true simply because in using them we make them so. Such softball labels allow the perpetrators to hide in plain sight, and the victims are left alone with the memory of a tragedy that is anything but “unthinkable” to them. A distinct point Spotlight makes is that the priests are not solely to blame. Lawyers, law enforcement, and even the press exploited shame and secrecy in order to keep the priests’ horrible crimes masked as “unspeakable.”

“If it takes a village to raise a child,” Garabedian says, “it takes a village to abuse one.” It took the courage of a few honest people to shatter the euphemisms, oppose the complacent village, and unleash the full truth.

While characters like Mike are clearly resentful of the Catholic Church and faith on the whole, the movie itself is not necessarily anti-religion. It is against the abuse of power, the destruction of innocence. The movie’s stance is staunchly anti-evil, for lack of a better description. It reflects the perspective of the Spotlight team, one that is grim and pessimistic but grounded by facts.

Spotlight is a difficult film to watch; it confronts us with the horrifying consequences of denial, deception, and complacency. Nonetheless, it is a masterpiece of filmmaking, an important testament to human will and spirit. I challenge any viewer to not be moved in one way or another by the time the credits roll.

8.5/10

The Top 10 Movie Closing Lines

The final line of a movie is tricky to nail. It is the last piece of dialogue the audience hears before leaving the world of the film, and there are many routes that a director can take. Do you raise the viewer’s spirits, or dash them completely? Do you go for one last big laugh, or send a chill down everyone’s spine? Regardless, it needs to be good, an exclamation mark at the end of an experience. So here are the nest and most memorable last lines that I have come across.

Also, this is actually a Top 11. I simply couldn’t eliminate one of these beauties from the finals, so I decided to pass them all along to you.

ALSO, since this is a compilation of final lines, there are likely to be SPOILERS. You have been warned.

11. “I used to hate the water…” “I can’t imagine why.”

Jaws

Unknown

The understatement of the century. After the climactic battle with the (mostly) unseen monstrosity, our heroes Brody and Hooper swim back to shore and deliver an ironically humorous closing exchange. The perfect release of a movie’s worth of tension.

10. “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart.” “She puts me to shame…”

The Diary of Anne Frank

9678603_f520

After the horror of World War II and the Holocaust, we hear our young heroine’s beautiful philosophy. And Otto Frank’s reaction to her words is heartrending. But then we realize that the line is from her diary, which was written before she was taken and subjected to the brutal concentration camps, and we can’t help but wonder if, given the chance, she would change her mind.

9. “He’s a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A dark knight.”

The Dark Knight

dark_knight-3

Gordon’s final monologue is simultaneously heroic and heart-breaking. Bruce has struggled his entire life to not become a killer, but now, he takes that label willingly in order to save Gotham’s soul. We know that Bruce will be hunted for the rest of his life, but he is content knowing that the city is safe. Hans Zimmer’s powerful score packs a wallop as well. To simply call this a “comic book” movie is criminal– it is one of the greatest crime dramas ever made. Every single time someone asks why Batman is my favorite hero, I just show them this scene.

8. “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

Some Like it Hot

some_like_it_hot_well_nobodys_perfect_www.d332.com_

One of the funniest lines ever from Joe Brown is punctuated by Jack Lemmon’s hysterical facial reaction. After Osgood proposes to “Daphne,” Jerry does everything in his power to dissuade him. Finally, Jerry pulls off his wig and admits “I’m a man.” Osgood shrugs and responds with the film’s closing line. Jerry stares forward, dumbfounded, as Osgood continues smiling in indifference. The two drive away as the audience cackles.

7. “The horror… The horror…”

Apocalypse Now

kurtz_thth_anr_101220_460w

From Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Kurtz’s death rattle sums up the film’s sentiments on war and national domination. The line is fairly ambiguous–what exactly is Kurtz mumbling about as he dies? Whatever the viewer’s interpretation, it is clear that Kurtz never accomplished what he set out to do, and it burdened him to his last moments.

6. “Which would be worse: to live as a monster, or to die as a good man?”

Shutter Island

shutter-island1

Perfectly delivered by Leo, this line drives home the realization that Teddy may not actually be crazy. Instead, he has resigned himself to a sort of assisted suicide rather than live with the guilt of his crimes. His question could be asked a thousand times, and there is no clear answer.

5. “I thought of that old joke. Y’know, this… this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, ‘Doc, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.’ And, uh, the doctor says, ‘Well, why don’t you turn him in?’ The guy says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’ Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y’know, they’re totally irrational and crazy and absurd and… but, uh, I guess we keep goin’ through it because most of us… need the eggs.”

Annie Hall

AnnieHallunpop3

Classic Woody Allen, using humor to call human existence a hopeless waste of time. Both brothers in the joke are delusional, summing up Allen’s point that both lovers in a relationship need to be somewhat insane in order to make it work. The implication is that we are all like the men in the joke: we all need the eggs, the fictions and illusions that make life bearable.

4. “Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ‘The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.”

Se7en

maxresdefault

Dark and dismal, Se7en has nothing optimistic to offer the audience–even the sunset is dreary. Our heroes lost. The villain won. Ernest Hemingway, one of the most forlorn authors of all time, found something positive in our crazed world, but Detective Somerset can’t even bring himself to agree with the full quote. There is a glimmer of hope, however, implying that Somerset will stick around and continue to fight for the world despite the evil that seems to dominate it.

3. “Now, where was I?”

Memento

cn-memento

Hauntingly powerful, this line sums up the movie’s effect of moving in reverse, since this is what both Leonard and the audience think every time a new scene starts. The line follows a profound monologue where Leonard finally understands his existence and comes to grips with his loss… but then he immediately forgets it. Also, since the last scene is actually the first chronologically, we know what is going to happen, the heartache and crimes that are about to occur… but Leonard has no idea. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

2. “It’s sad, when a mother has to speak the words that condemn her own son. But I couldn’t allow them to believe that I would commit murder. They’ll put him away now, as I should have years ago. He was always bad, and in the end he intended to tell them I killed those girls and that man… as if I could do anything but just sit and stare, like one of his stuffed birds. They know I can’t move a finger, and I won’t. I’ll just sit here and be quiet, just in case they do… suspect me. They’re probably watching me. Well, let them. Let them see what kind of a person I am. I’m not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching… they’ll see. They’ll see and they’ll know. And they’ll say, Why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly…”

Psycho

Norman-Bates-psycho-movie-bates-motel-friday-magazine

After Norman has tricked us the entire movie into thinking he is merely a victim of his mother, we now get a peek inside his crazed mind. He honestly believes he is Mother Bates, and she honestly believes she is an innocent, harmless woman. Anthony Perkins’s snake-like smile may be the most frightening moment in the entire movie–more so than the shower scene, more so than the reveal of Mother’s corpse. And the overlay of Mother’s skeleton over his face seals the deal, cementing Psycho as one of the greatest thrillers in film history.

  1. “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. And like that… He’s gone.”

The Usual Suspects

the-usual-suspects-keyser-soze

Kevin Spacey, Bryan Singer, and Christopher McQuarrie pulled off what is still considered to be one of the paramount twist endings in film, and this eerie line underlines it perfectly. Spacey’s delivery is unmatched, leaving audiences pinned to their seats, jaws hanging open. The editing, music, and blocking leading to the line crank up the tension, and… poof. Cut to black. Silence. Whisper: “…He’s gone…”