Tag Archives: Catholic Church

Spotlight (2015)

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I had relatively high expectations going into Spotlight, the film that appears headed straight for this year’s Best Picture Oscar if critics are to be believed. For the most part, the hype is justified.

Most people know about the Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual abuse by priests, but not nearly as many people know about the journalists who uncovered the story. Spotlight is the fascinating true story about the eponymous team from the Boston Globe that worked tirelessly to expose the systemic child abuse being swept under the rug by the Catholic Church for decades.

Like all good true stories, this one feels meticulously researched and respectful to the subject. From the very start, you get a great sense of something remarkable brewing, and director and co-writer Tom McCarthy does a commendably patient job in allowing the characters and story to develop, much like how a real journalistic investigation peels back the layers bit by bit, with the occasional exciting breakthrough. The way McCarthy depicts the subtle push-back from the predominantly Catholic community in Boston helps explain why this dirty secret stayed a secret for so long. The pacing is so important to a film like this, and McCarthy manages to get it perfect.

The film also features without a doubt the best ensemble cast of the year, led by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Billy Crudup and Stanley Tucci. The great thing about the cast is that they’re not just there to create an impressive list of names — each of them has a key role to play and they all deliver memorable performances. It’s hard to think of another instance in recent years where so many big names are so balanced that each can have such meaty roles in the same movie.

The thing that impressed me the most about the Spotlight is the way it portrays the church and the Boston Globe journalists. As disappointing and infuriating it is to learn about the extent of the cover-up, I never got the feeling that the Catholic Church was being vilified beyond what the facts implied. The same goes for the portrayals of the Spotlight Team — they’re neither saints nor heroes, just a bunch of journalists who are extremely dedicated to their jobs (and who make me ashamed to think I once considered myself a semi-journalist). This even-handed approach makes cannot be understated — it makes all the difference in a movie like this.

While Spotlight is an exceptionally well-made film that ticks all the boxes, it’s not the kind of jaw-dropping experience that will have most casual viewers running out of the cinema declaring that it’s the best thing they’ve seen this year. Personally, I appreciated the film more than I was entertained, excited or thrilled by it.

That said, it’s not that kind of film. In some ways, Spotlight reminds me a little of last year’s Best Picture winner, Birdman, in that the film has it all on paper — intriguing premise, masterful direction, great script and terrific performances — but doesn’t quite hit it out of the park in terms of building an emotional connection . The difference, however, is that I found Spotlight to be the much more involving and compelling film because it at least made me care for the characters and what they were fighting to unveil, as gut-wrenching (especially as a parent) as it was to watch at times.

In all, Spotlight is a fantastic film with an important story to tell, and it’s told brilliantly with a superb cast and outstanding performances. While I consider it a riveting drama that’s perhaps easier to admire than enjoy, that should not stop it from being regarded as one of the best films of the year.

4.5 stars out of 5

PS: Shockingly, the last film Tom McCarthy wrote and directed was the Adam Sandler comedy The Cobbler.

Movie Review: Philomena (2013)

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I watched best picture nominee Philomena to prepare myself for the Oscars in a week or so, not knowing what the film was about other than it starred Judi Dench and thinking that it was probably going to be a long, boring drama I’d have to force myself to sit through. Instead, I laughed and I cried and was deeply moved by this true story about a mother’s lifelong search for the son she was forced to give up half a century ago. And it’s only 95 minutes long!

Directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen, Tamara Drewe), Philomena tells the true story of an elderly woman, Philomena Lee (Dench) who seeks out a jaded former journalist who just lost his job as a government adviser, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan), to help her track down her long lost son. Philomena had the child out of wedlock as a teenager and was sent to a convent by her father in disgrace before being forced to give up the child, who was believed to have been sent to the United States for adoption.

Far from boring, Philomena is essentially an investigative road trip movie as we follow Philomena and Sixsmith track down clues and follow leads in their efforts to track down the missing son. Apart from the intrigue of the amazing true story, the strength of the film lies in the two wonderfully developed main characters and the chemistry between them. Philomena is a determined, talkative woman who isn’t afraid to express her beliefs, while Sixsmith is characterised by his wry sense of humour and opinionated views. Together they make an odd couple who provide the audience with plenty of witty and amusing conversations.

And if you don’t know what happens at the end of their search then I would recommend avoiding all spoilers until you see the movie. I was impressed with the unexpected twists and turns in the storytelling, which, given that they really happened in real life, are both stunning and remarkable. I was particularly fascinated by the change in Sixsmith’s attitude as the adventure progressed, going from a position where he had little concern for the outcome other than how it would affect his article to becoming completely engrossed in the search, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Judi Dench received a best actress nomination for next month’s Oscars for her performance as Philomena, and rightly so. I was surprised that Coogan didn’t get a nod for his performance as Sixsmith, which was tonally perfect and balanced out Dench nicely, though he did get a nomination for co-adapting the screenplay. In fact, I was probably even more impressed with Coogan because my memory of him had been largely based on that crappy Jackie Chan movie Around the World in 80 Days.

Philomena is also an important film because it uncovers more atrocious — absolutely appalling — conduct on the part of the Catholic Church. I can’t say more without divulging spoilers so I’d recommend you check out the film, or if you don’t intend on doing so, to read the article that inspired it. I find it curious that some critics have slammed the movie for being yet another “anti-Catholic” film, but it’s not like the writers made all this shit up — it actually happened!

My only real complaint about Philomena is that the musical score occasionally stands out so much that it becomes obvious it’s trying to manipulate audiences into a stronger emotional response. It’s unnecessary because the story itself already packs a poignant punch, especially if you are a parent, like I am. I can’t even begin to imagine what the experience would be like for the real victims of the story. In the end, I don’t think Philomena would have been a best picture nominee back when they only had five slots, but in the age of nine nominees I think it’s reasonable that it has squeezed in. It’s a film that could have easily spiralled into a sappy melodrama, but thanks to the strong script and solid direction it has turned out to be quite an effective, satisfying drama.

4.25 stars out of 5