If I’m allowed to make a recommendation for all writers, it is this: See the 2015 Oscar-winner Spotlight. And watch it a second time.
Tom McCarthy’s film is all-around brilliant. What’s amazing to me is how subtle everything is. It’s a very quiet film. There’s no violent action, no in-your-face confrontation, nothing that seems over-dramatized at all. (Suffice to say, there also isn’t any comedy or romance). Yet, there’s plenty of tension and menace, magnified by the overall subject matter. (This film is about the Boston Archdiocese’s cover-up of widespread sexual abuse by priests.)
The movie humanizes both the journalist heroes and the villains (of the cloth and of the fountain pen), and most every smile is, in fact, a facade. In a way, the filmmakers got to cheat on a few things. They assume the audience has a working understanding of a big-time newspaper (where things are always complex, and timing and legal issues must be considered) and of the gravity of the whole saga. There’s little tension between the journalists and editors working on the story because, in real life, there wouldn’t be room for it. What they’re working on is so huge and horrible, it can only be eclipsed (in the film) by 9/11.
The long hours clearly take their toll. One quick scene shows Sacha Pfeiffer (played by Rachel McAdams) struggling to get the dishwasher rack in properly. She bangs it, her husband asks if she’s okay. No response, none needed. The story never calls for an awkward domestic moment: “So what did you do today at work, Honey?”
In the end, what that gives us is a 2-hour build toward a satisfying crescendo. There isn’t an erroneous scene or a wasted word of dialogue in the whole movie. That, by itself, is amazing. Some of my favorite moments were the slight or gradual facial reactions to verbal jabs and tough questions. The heroes mine for information, constantly digging for truth. Without dark TV music or flashy cut-scenes, the weight of what isn’t said almost becomes its own character.
I could probably base a college seminar on this movie alone.