Based on the real life Pulitzer Prize winning investigation, Spotlight delivers a paint by numbers procedural drama that while entertaining feels also somewhat uninspired. Featuring a star studded cast that includes the likes of Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci, and Mark Ruffalo, the film follows the Boston Globe's 'Spotlight' team (the oldest continuing investigative journalism team in the US) as they investigate allegations of sexual abuse by priests in the Boston Catholic church.
Spotlight is a well-crafted film in almost every respect however it fails to be truly remarkable in any way. The acting is competent and realistic, and the writing mostly does the cast favours with the exception of a few scenes where the lines feel very artificial and 'fed'. The pacing was somewhat strange, and my biggest gripe is that at any given point it was difficult to gauge at what stage of the investigation we were witnessing. In a similar vein I also felt as though this film overstays its welcome, and could have easily been 20 or so minutes shorter than it was. It’s not that the runtime is particularly long at only a little over two hours, but many scenes felt bloated as if they did not need to continue on as long as they did.
Possibly the greatest aspect of this film is the realistic portrayal of investigative journalism. Spotlight refreshingly does not over dramatize its subject matter, and chooses to focus not on scandal but facts. A ‘procedural’ drama in every sense of the word, Spotlight hits all the beats that you would expect of it and holds no real surprises to anyone with knowledge of the real life subject matter. This gives it a very clinical feeling devoid of much emotion, but those who have an interest in journalism will enjoy that it is faithfully and accurately depicted without much embellishment.
This clinical feeling, however, also ultimately hampers the impact that Spotlight has. The characters are all fairly underdeveloped as not much time is spent with any of them outside of the actual investigation. As stated above, this is done because the film chooses to be strictly about the facts, but it creates disconnect between the characters and the audience, causing us to not really feel anything about them, as we don't know who they are. The only scenes in the film that really carry any emotional weight are the interview sequences with various victims of abuse. While these scenes provided at least some emotion to an otherwise very matter-of-fact film, they were brief and in the grand scheme a fairly minor aspect.
Spotlight is overall a very fine film that does justice to the real life events and people that it portrays, however in a season that is crowded with other more spectacular films it is hard to justify the price of a ticket. While Spotlight doesn't really do anything wrong, it also does not elevate itself above the level of 'good' in any way. If you are someone who enjoys very deliberately paced procedural dramas, or have a vested interest in the specific case depicted then you will probably find something to enjoy in this film, but those looking to see something truly remarkable may wish to do so elsewhere.