A smartly written film with heart that does not pander to the lowest denominator nor paint the heroes in an overly grandeur light. Tom McCarthy and the cast of excellent actors all brought their A-game out for this, making a potentially dull feature on investigative journalism and its reporters, with an explosive exposé notwithstanding, into a compelling and tense human drama.
McCarthy's pacing was excellent and the tension really ebbed and flowed naturally. Even as we approached the climax, McCarthy never really stepped on the accelerator but instead allowed the film's own natural rhythm to bring us to the eventual conclusion. Despite knowing how it all ended, we were still invested - through to the end - to find out how they finally got there.
Writers McCarthy and Josh Singer wisely focused on the team of journalists rather than the subjects and the subject matter in which they are investigating. And that, coupled with the dynamic cast made the film highly engaging. McCarthy's and Singer's background in writing for ensemble TV really showed through. The only minor complaint was that there was not enough opportunity for them to mix up the dynamics more, as it was almost always the same cast members paired/grouped together. However, it was really the occasional shake-up which helped to flesh out the individual characters more.
There really was not a clear lead actor in this film. Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton had the most screen time, but ostensibly the whole main cast were supporting each other. And every cast member was excellent in their role, although it is a pity that the fourth member of the Spotlight team played by Brian d'Arcy James is not getting as much recognition/billing as his big-name co-stars.
Ruffalo had the showiest role and he was - as per usual - great in it, acting as the moral/emotional compass of the show. Keaton's role was less showy and that could be why he was left out this awards season. However, Keaton's portrayal was more nuanced as he hit all the right emotional notes.
Rachel McAdams has also been getting a lot of award love for her role. However, although she - like the rest of the gang - gave one of her best performances of her career (even better than in True Detective and Southpaw), I am not sure if it warranted an Oscar nomination. Without having watched Trumbo, Youth or Brooklyn, I cannot be sure whether Helen Mirren, Jane Fonda or Julie Walters were robbed.
This was one of the truly great films of 2015/16. It was not as massively fun nor entertaining as Mad Max: Fury Road, which really embodied what movies should do - bringing the audience out of the mundane-ness of Life and into a whole different world; but on its own, Spotlight was entertaining but perhaps not to as wide an audience.