I really enjoyed Spotlight. Not a masterpiece, but a relevant story, well told. Irony is not my strong side, and some now believe that I genuinely have the balls to criticise the winner of both Best Picture, and Best Original Screenplay.
You’re giving me too much credit, guys.
What I wanted to demonstrate, is that you can’t apply advice for emerging screenwriters to films written by seasoned – and successful – filmmakers. “Well, obviously!” I hear you say. Yet, beginners often look at these films to justify seemingly brave choices.
Let’s first look at the Spotlight win in the context of two decades. The past 10 years’ winners, and those from ’76-’85.
Best Picture 2006-2015
No Country for Old Men
Slumdog Millionaire [O]
The Hurt Locker
The King’s Speech
12 Years a Slave
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Best Picture 1976-1985
The Deer Hunter
Kramer vs. Kramer
Chariots of Fire
Out of Africa
I don’t think Spotlight measures up to the standard of the 70’s and 80’s winners. Against recent winners, it compares much better.
So what did I like about the film?
Seven Reasons Why Spotlight Is A Best Picture
- It’s a drama that scored $40m+ at the B.O.
Oscar®-winners are historically often dramas, and they don’t always perform very well at the box office.
- It features an ensemble cast – and doesn’t fall apart.
Writing multi-protagonist stories for the large screen is hellishly difficult. You’ll find that those who do it successfully, have experience in television, like Spotlight co-writer Josh Singer.
- The issue is not painted in black & white.
In politics, you won’t get heard unless you speak in slogans. Sadly the same is becoming true for movies with an opinion. Spotlight cannot be blamed of oversimplifying, as I will demonstrate below.
- Past story; cautionary tale for the future.
The story may deal with events that happened 15 years ago, they are still acutely fresh in the minds of many. Perhaps as entertainers we have the duty to ensure we – and our audiences – stay cautious.
- It’s about journalists.
Anyone with an interest in the media will have witnessed the rapid decline of the standards of practice of – previously respected – newspapers. More now than at the time of All The President’s Men, journalists are the guardians of our democracy. Or should be.
- Characters are relentless.
From a purely technical perspective, Spotlight hooks us into a difficult subject through the POV of characters that are determined, unrelenting, even obsessive.
- It’s not L.A. or N.Y. for a change.
Okay, perhaps not enough reason for you to call it Best Picture. But don’t forget that the Oscars® are also a little bit about taste … and a whole lot about politics.
Now here is a scene that made me look at the picture differently.
Fifty Shades Of Grey
Spotlight slowly builds. Initially I wondered “how are they going to make this work”, but once their task was clear, I loved how each character took to it in their own way.
The new editor Baron (Schreiber) sees an opportunity and a duty to take on the challenge, while old-timer Robby (Keaton) is reluctant. Staffers Sacha (McAdams) and Mike (Ruffalo) are the pit-bulls, attacking the case, without ever relenting. They’ll provide the momentum to get us deeper into the case.
Just past the mid-point sits a scene of merely ninety seconds, that makes this film truly special. It goes into brave territory, and reminds us of the complexity of child abuse. Rather than demonising the perpetrators and appealing to the audience’s primal lust for revenge, it shows us how difficult the issue really is.
Sacha visits a former priest named Ronald Paquin. The elderly gentleman who opens the door, radiates a child-like innocence. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Then, the conversation gets a totally unexpected twist, leaving both Sacha and the viewer speechless.
Watch this scene, and download the Spotlight screenplay at the end.