Film review – Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, 2016)

There are obvious paths to go down to tell a story about victims of child abuse. This film eschews the story of the individuals who have suffered the abuse, instead concentrating on the journalistic team that fought hard to uncovered the abuse. It deliberately attempts to portray just how difficult it was to reveal the truth about something when nobody wants to listen and everybody involved is trying to cover up what has happened. It is an effective but devastating success.

The title of the film is taken from an investigative journalistic unit that tackles stories it deems of necessary interest to the readers of The Boston Globe. In 2002 it published an exposé on Roman Catholic priests in the Boston area, offering evidence of not only child molestation and rape, but also of the systemic cover-up of the evidence by the church. The truths they found were horrific in both nature and magnitude.

Whilst the movie is truly an ensemble piece, there are three wonderfully nuanced performances that help make this film so effective.

The first comes from Stanley Tucci as the attorney Mitchell Garabedian. Tucci is a really special actor and he’s in fine form here. Garabedian has represented innumerable victims of the abuse and each time has been unable to affect change, with critical documents being suppressed by the church. Reminiscent of his role in Margin Call as Eric Dale, he is a man with knowledge of the wider secret dying for those around him to find out what’s truly going on.

A smaller but memorable turn comes from Neal Huff as Phil Saviano, head of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Based on a real person going by the same name, he makes the most of his limited screen time when he provides a harrowing monologue the first time he meets the Spotlight team. A frustrated picture of a man that likely represents the emotions felt by each and every survivor.

The finest performance, however, is from Michael Keaton as the Chief Editor of Spotlight, Walter “Bobby” Robinson. Throughout the story Bobby is a man wrestling with his conscience. He knows that to make the story as effective as possible he needs to wait for all the facts to be in place and make a thorough, damning article that cannot be ignored. However, doing this means sitting on the information whilst the abuse continues in the city. Late in the picture when he finds out he was actually tipped off about the scandal twenty years previously, he must conclude that he is finally bringing justice to the city despite potentially having the power to prevent generations of systemic abuse. Keaton nails it, reminding us all once again how great it is to have him back on the big screen in a role of substance.

I’m surprised Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams have been selected for an Oscar nomination ahead of those they share the screen with. Fine actors though they are, it must have been a tough call to select two from a long list of solid performances. Ruffalo seemed to be holding back slightly, though that was perhaps a deliberate choice I didn’t pick up on fully.

It is rare that a whole audience is left in absolute silence at the end of a screening, but even on a busy Saturday afternoon there didn’t seem to be anyone that felt anything other than stunned. The reason for this was a devastating list of all the locations they have uncovered scandals in since the publishing of the initial article in 2002, firstly in the USA, then globally.

For this reason the film is now serving the same purpose as the original article: to shine a spotlight on a diabolical scandal that should have been eradicated decades ago. It is possibly the most important film you will see this year.

Transformers: Age of Extinction (Michael Bay, 2014)

So then. Transformers 4. The fourth in the rebooted franchise. The one everyone has been dreading. Can it really be as disappointing as we hope it isn’t?

Well, the answer lies in your expectations. The storyline is interchangeable with any of the others. The autobots and deceptacons are having a battle about something and the humans are involved too, because it’s set in a conveniently placed city in USA. They’re back here in hiding because… there was a reason. I think the humans wanted to kill them. Some of them did. But they wanted to protect the other ones. But… OOH EXPLOSION!

The main difference is that Shea LeBouf was busy perfecting his English accent for Nymphomaniac so has been replaced by Mark Wahlerg. This changes the dynamic, I guess, as he is protecting his daughter rather than his girlfriend. Her Irish boyfriend was introduced about 30 minutes in, but he felt like an afterthought. To be fair, Kelsey Grammer and Stanley Tucci are both in fine form as the bad guys.

At the end of the film, I felt surprisingly satisfied. The film didn’t tax me, the storyline was pretty forgettable, but I like the series and they have made some massive improvements, my favourite of which was to do with the CGI elements.

Of course, a Transformers film is not a Transformers film without good CGI and that is where the last two fell down. This time around, we can actually see the fights and the transformations. We can follow the action. The transformers are identifiable and unique. We are rooting for one over another. They don’t lose a heap of screws, metal and oil every time they take a step. The camera is much less shaky. It was, well, quite good to be honest.

Another good thing was that the human characters, in general, were likeable. You rooted for the good guys and hated the bad guys. They were clearly defined as they should be in a summer action film. Mainly the bad guys wore all-black, which helped someone with a low IQ like myself.

The film also managed to strike a good balance between taking itself seriously and being tongue-in-cheek. You can’t be too serious when you’re talking to an alien robot, and I felt they got this spot on.

I used to like the toys and cartoon as a child, but I wasn’t a die-hard fan. Indeed, from memory there weren’t that many die-hard fans, but people vaguely remembered having an Optimus Prime action figure and laid claim to being Transformarians (I made that up) when the reboot was originally announced. For this one, there was a lot of pre-release chat about the dinobots. I honestly don’t believe anyone remembers them vividly. They’re hardly in the film, appearing maybe 90 minutes into the action. They didn’t change much but might help fund film five.

So, take your pick. It’s a big, dumb, action film. The men are meat heads, the women are attractive. There are car chases, explosions, robots fighting. The storyline is flimsy. It’s great.

Now let me get back to drinking my Bud Light whilst I purchase a Chevrolet will you?

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