Clenching the Nomination - Spotlight - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
26Feb/160

Clenching the Nomination – Spotlight

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Andrew discusses the scene in Tom McCarthy's Spotlight that he thinks secured the film's Best Picture nomination. You can check out all of our overall guesses on the major Oscar categories for 2016 here.

Clenching SpotlightThe emotional peak of Tom McCarthy's movies don't involve a lot of dialogue.  In The Station Agent it comes from indistinct muttering and stares, The Visitor peaked with passionate drum music and no words, and Win Win's came from silent comfort offered in a locker room.  This remains true in Spotlight, where the full ethical and emotional weight of the reporting team's investigation into the Catholic Church comes bearing down on the reporters.

The pivotal moment of Spotlight comes in the middle of its run-time.  The Spotlight team is huddled around a speakerphone, listening intently to a psychotherapist provide input on their investigation on sexual assault committed by priests.  McCarthy makes an interesting choice here, beginning with the shot on a closeup of the phone, then dollying back slowly to show one team member after another crowded around the camera.

By the time the psychotherapist reveals that the Spotlight team's figures are low, and the nine priests they suspected of sexual assault is closer to ninety, McCarthy has taken us from a close-up to a long shot.  Then he keeps going, and as the team sits in stunned silence they become smaller.  It's hard not to feel the emotional weight of this moment, and given the stunning revelation it brings a question to mind.  Why did McCarthy not dolly the camera in so that we can see the full facial reactions each performer gives to the news?

Because the moment isn't really about what each member of the team feels individually.  Instead it's about their sudden realization that they are but one tiny blip in the overall scope of the investigation into the church sexual abuse.  A lesser director might have started out then worked the camera in, letting us get a good look at the expressions on their faces when they hear the projected number of abusive priests.  But McCarthy, always the performer's director, trusts each performance to communicate the weight of their investigation from a distance.  They still deflate, exchange almost terrified looks with one another, and this wilting strength in the face of evil doesn't need the camera closer to this space.

Cameras violate our personal space.  Even if they're capturing moments of beauty, they rely on what honesty the performers are capable of putting forth.  Spotlight is already about the horrific violations the priests of Boston have committed.  In this moment we don't need more disgust, we need scope, we need to understanding the reach these evil men had.  McCarthy understood to communicate visually how deep the well of corruption went we needed to take a step away from the characters.  As the camera pulls out, we're drawn in, and Spotlight earns its Best Picture nomination.

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Posted by Andrew

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