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segunda-feira, 1 de fevereiro de 2016
Spotlight review: 'skin-prickling'
Tom McCarthy's forensic look at a newspaper exposé of child abuse by the Catholic Church is as unshowy as it is gripping
Spotlight is a journalism procedural thriller in which the thrills and procedure are one and the same thing. The excitementcomes from the joining of disparate dots: a stray comment leads to a tentative telephone call, which leads in turn to a halting conversation in a coffee shop. Some of these leads are yet more dots, while others are the lines that link them – and over the course of two hours, you watch the bigger picture gradually and methodically take shape.
The picture in this case is the systematic concealment by the Catholic Church in Boston of its decades-long, state-wide dealings with almost 100 paedophile priests – and McCarthy’s film, a serious Best Picture contender at this year’s Oscarsand Baftas, follows four reporters on the city’s Globe newspaper who spent two years painstakingly pinning down the story.
Both visually and verbally, Thomas McCarthy’s film is almost obstinately unshowy: Aaron Sorkin would probably nod off during the prologue. But much like All The President’s Men – which is, of course, a significant and unavoidable influence – Spotlight finds a thrilling and absorbing anti-glamour in journalistic spadework, and the tactile movement of analogue information through filing cabinets and photocopiers.
Some scenes don’t consist of much more than Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo scratching their three-day stubble in a tatty basement office – but actors like Keaton and Ruffalo scratching three-day stubble is exactly what this kind of film should be all about.
Those two actors play Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson, the editor of theGlobe’s Spotlight investigations team and Mike Rezendes, its star reporter: their colleagues are Sacha Pfeiffer, played by Rachel McAdams with a compelling, rabbity alertness, and veteran hack Eric MacLeish, played by the theatre actor Brian d’Arcy James.
The different roles the foursome play in the gathering of evidence are carefully delineated. Robby,a dyed-in-the-wool Bostonian, knows best how to navigate the forces of the establishment – the courts, law enforcement and church, all arcanely interconnected – while Pfeiffer and MacLeish knock doors, wheedling, charming and cajolingassistance frommembers of the public.
In a superb, subtly realised sequence, McCarthy cuts between two of the team’s interviews with abuse victims. The crossing back and forth reveals the shared patterns of grooming, but also the horrible specificity of every victim’s story.
When I first saw Spotlight at the Venice Film Festival last year, I couldn’t resist picking favourites from its capable cast. And it was Ruffalo who jumped out, all but literally: his Rezendes is like a humanoid West Highland terrier, scampering into rooms to quickly get the measure of them, ears pricked, nose twitching and wet. He gives a brilliantly calibrated physical portrayal of a born investigator – in one scene, when he arrives in a lawyer’s office, he even scrutinises the chair in the foyer before warily taking a seat.
Awards voters must have been similarly charmed, because over the last few weeks it’s Ruffalo’s name that has kept popping up on nominations lists (though McAdams has also been nominated by the Academy, for Best Supporting Actress). But I’ve since realised that Spotlight’s great strength is in the way it defies being chopped up into component parts – to its core this is an ensemble movie, with characters who harmonise like the ingredients in a satisfying meal.
Stanley Tucci, playing a lawyer who’s building a class action against the Church, is like a fiery mouthful of ginger: now you wouldn’t want four courses of only ginger, but pair him with Ruffalo and both actors add depth and savour to each other’s performances.
Keaton might be the prime example of this. He does far quieter work here than in Birdman, only once breaking into that nervous, elbows-out quick-march that carried him through that film. But Liev Schreiber also gives a wonderfully underplayed turn as the Globe’s new editor, Marty Baron, an unmarried Jew from Florida and therefore the living definition of a Boston outsider.
Marty reads a column about historic child abuse in the paper one weekend and asks why a fuller inquiry into the subject has never been carried out. No-one can tell him, although the reason is slowly unveiled as the film proceeds: on some dark and unspoken level, no-one wanted to find out.
McCarthy’s needle-sharp screenplay, co-written with Josh Singer, wafts the mugginess of moral compromise over the case, and the entire city by extension. “If it takes a village to raise a child,” Tucci’s lawyer points out, “it takes a village to abuse one.”
McCarthy’s early films marked him out as a craftsman of mature and thoughtful dramas – Richard Jenkins, who was Oscar-nominated for his performance in McCarthy’s 2007 film The Visitor, has a talismanic voice-only role here as a vital source. After his misfiring Adam Sandlercomedy, The Cobbler, Spotlight almost qualifies as a comeback: either way, it’s a significant step up.
There’s no tidy moral to take away here, which is, I think, entirely right: a story like this shouldn’t end in comfort. Instead, it leaves your skin prickling – both at the despicable business of secret-keeping, and the courage and resourcefulness that rivetingly overturns it.