Piecing it together 

I had a couple of 99 cent movies to get through last weekend. One was The Clouds of Sils Maria, which looked interesting and starred Juliette Binoche, who is always great, but I found it difficult to watch. So difficult that I paused it around an hour into its halting narrative about a vain actress rehearsing a part in the Alps and never went back. Maybe I was not in the mood for a film that wanted to take its time, to allow its actors to sort of trail off in the middle of sentences, I do not mind if a film wants to take its time, I gave it 60 minutes of mine and then decided I had given it enough.

The 99 cent movie last week was The Gift, which I have heard good things about, but I am not too good on films that seem to flirt with horror, home invasion and dog threatening, and the trailer seemed to suggest all three, so I passed on that.

This left two movies to consider: I watched the trailer for both Sisters, a comedy and Spotlight, winner of best picture Oscar this year. No contest. I am sure I will watch Sisters one day when I feel like a laugh – I loved Trainwreck – but the minute the trailer finished for Spotlght, I hit the button to rent it.

Spotlight is about an investigation carried out by a small team of reporters at the Boston Globe into child abuse and its subsequent cover up by members of the Catholic Church. If you are expecting a film featuring leering evil priests and sobbing children, then you will be disappointed, because the focus of the drama is on the investigation that the team carry out and their unpicking of organizational cultures and practices that allowed these crimes to go unchecked for so long. It is about looking at something that is hiding in plain sight and seeing it for the first time, even as doing so means that you take a long hard look at yourself and the clues you have been failing to see. It is about succumbing to the pressures of ‘letting things lie’ as a community, because to do otherwise would be to admit the rotten core running all the way to the top of an organization charged with the pastoral care of its members and failing by some distance to meet any kind of decency in that regard.

The entire succession of discoveries and exposition of the plot is delivered through the dialogue – and although the film does not do a full Sorkin – the characters speak at normal pace for a start and do not feel the need to tramp endlessly in circles while doing so – I knew even as I was watching it, that I was missing bits of information as it was coming at me, because like the team, I was piecing together the history and the investigation while watching them do it. It is this experience of watching the drama unfold pretty much at the same time as the reporters uncover the story, that make it such compelling viewing – that and a brilliant ensemble cast working to serve the film together.

There are a couple of what seem to be red herrings – questions that were asked that I expected the film to come back to. When they didn’t, I am guessing it was either because all investigations have dead ends or leads that you end up not following, or because they were dealt with and I missed them.

The film is not sentimental. There is even a bit of humour, but it has passion and commitment and the running time of two hours flew by. Definitely one for my Xmas DVD list .


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