Cinema review: Spotlight's genius is in its calmly urgent take on events
Spotlight Cert: 15A
Reviewed this week are Spotlight, The 33, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi and Youth.
In 2002, The Boston Globe published a series of Pulitzer-scooping articles that exposed child sexual abuse cover-ups rife in the top tiers of the city's Catholic hierarchy. It was the work of 'Spotlight', a crack team of investigative journalists that worked with heroic determination to bring justice to the countless victims of some 90 paedophile priests. The articles caused dominoes of clerical crime to fall across the US and beyond.
With taste, restraint and clear-headedness, director Tom McCarthy documents the saga immaculately. Marty Baron (an excellent Liev Schreiber) is the joyless outsider editor who courts anti-Semitic murmurings when he assigns Spotlight to follow up on abuse claims. The team led by Walter 'Robbie' Robinson (Michael Keaton) gets to work. Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) liaises with the victims' attorney (Stanley Tucci). Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) interviews victims themselves. Robinson presses lawyers and clergy chiefs for movement, both on the fairway and at the bar counter. An irrefutable argument for long-form journalism is made.
Process, procedure and exposition define the narrative, but this Oscar hopeful is full of the quiet detail and thematic nuance that grant it classic status. There is no arch villain cackling in the shadows. No gory flashbacks and no all-American grandstanding.
The cast is an impressive ensemble, but Spotlight's genius is in its calmly urgent take on events. In doing so, it makes them all the more sobering and gravid. Compulsory viewing. 5 Stars
Sometimes, thinner stories are easier to tell than very rich ones and, conversely, when a story is naturally great, it can be hard to tell effectively. When those stories are real there is the added complication that we already know the ending, so, with suspense being hard to achieve, the richness has to be elsewhere.
The story of the 33 Chilean miners who got trapped underground for more than two months in 2010 is a naturally great story with inherently interesting dynamics and characters. The drama began shortly after the 33 men began their shift in a long-used and poorly maintained gold mine in the Atacama desert. The mine shaft collapsed, leaving the men stranded deep within the earth. They had enough supplies to last three days, no-one knew if they were even alive and no similar rescue had ever been attempted. The Chilean government was slow to act until one minister (Rodrigo Santoro) made it a personal mission.
Antonio Banderas plays Mario Sepulveda who became the miners' leader underground and Juliette Binoche is the miner's sister who rallies the families on the outside to demand action.
Gabriel Byrne (above) pops up as the chief engineer who did so much to achieve an outcome that more than a billion people watched live on TV.
Patricia Riggen's telling of The 33 is well-intentioned and watchable. The cast is good, Banderas especially seems to relish his role. However it focuses on painting emotion that was there anyway, missing a chance to exploit richer plot elements. As a result it is not as powerful as it might have been. 2 Stars
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
The latest shoot-em-up from the critically reviled director Michael Bay comes with a health warning: Remember you are watching Hollywood - at its most glitzy - tackling Middle Eastern politics.
13 Hours… tells of an Islamist siege of an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012 and the efforts of a handful of CIA security contractors to defend the fort.
With the film being released in the run-up to elections in the US, mud is being slung at the Democrats over the incident and the ensuing death of ambassador to Libya John Christopher Stevens.
Were you not told this was Bay at the helm, you'd have it worked out fairly quickly. Ripped male torsos (John Krasinski, pictured, has clearly been hitting the whey powder) are oiled and pumping iron. The musclebound mercenaries are fun, bromantic, brave and good family men, not like their sniffy, officious base chief (David Costabile).
When the abundance of shifty aye-rabs manifests into an all-out invasion on the compound, Bay delights in close-up, juddering shots of the boys getting tooled up for combat.
You could play a drinking game based on the liberal use of the phrase "bad guys".
And yet, call it faint praise, but this is Bay at his best. Like most of his catalogue, you don't come for a shrewd political discourse or well-developed female characters (Alexia Barlier can't get a word in edgeways as a CIA agent).
If you are Libyan yourself, you'll probably feel miffed at seeing shoot locations in Morocco and Malta passed off as Benghazi or hearing one character refer to the call to prayer as "weird shit". When a tough guy helpfully tells a local "your country's gotta figure this shit out," you can only laugh at the condescension.
What you will, however, be spoiled with over the film's 144 minutes are zooming location vistas and action set pieces that zing with sweat and threat. For all his many crimes against good cinema, staging and choreographing elaborate and visceral firefights and skirmishes is what Bay does with aplomb. 3 stars
Paolo Sorrentino's admiration for fellow Italian filmmaker Fellini is unabashed and defining - and his homage continues in Youth, with its echoes of 8 1/2. His second English language film features Michael Caine (above) in the role Tony Servillo would have had in Italian and delivers the usual (great) beauty (thanks to cinematographer Bigazzi), fantastic soundtrack, sharp humour and quirky vision. The film loses sharpness in the middle but overall this study of age and time works well.
Caine plays Fred, a retired composer taking his twentieth holiday in a Swiss spa. Also present is his long time friend, film-maker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), who is working on a very deliberate epitaph for himself for which he requires a co-writing team. His is an old age of mixed emotions whilst Fred's is deliberate - he has refused to conduct his most famous work for decades and still refuses, "for personal reasons", when a Buckingham Palace emissary (Alex McQueen) comes to trade a performance for a knighthood.
Fred and Mick are also linked by their children - Fred's daughter (Rachel Weisz) has just been abandoned by Mick's son (Ed Stoppard) for Paloma Faith (playing a parody of herself) - and by their interactions with the people around them, including a not-as-jaded-as-he-thinks superstar (Paul Dano), a super overweight South American former footballer and Miss Universe.
In a cast that delivers great stuff, Caine and Keitel are excellent individually and together, although Jane Fonda appears briefly to steal some thunder. Sorrentino's work isn't to everyone's taste, his films can be a bit langorous and obtuse, so it depends on whether you find the pay-off worth it. If you do, this is excellent. 4 Stars
Sunday Indo Living