Spotlight makes its mark without resorting to sensationalism

Spotlight (15, 129 mins) has been nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, with Tom McCarthy also up for Best Director. Both McCarthy and his film, about the Boston Globe’s 2002 investigation into the cover-up of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, would be worthy winners.

The reporters that make up the Spotlight investigative team are the focus of a movie which is as much a lament for the dying art of detailed journalism as it is about the abuse crisis. In the main, the story unfolds in unremarkable offices and quiet corridors with tension built as doors are knocked on and diocesan directories are scanned for information.

Like the reporters it portrays, played brilliantly by Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo, this gripping film is defiantly unflashy and utterly determined to make its mark without resorting to sensationalism.

Later this year comes Paolo Sorrentino’s first television series, The Young Pope, starring Jude Law as a fictional American pontiff. First, though, we get the maverick Italian director’s latest feature Youth (15, 124 mins), his second in the English language.

Holed up in a luxurious mountainside spa in Switzerland, Michael Caine plays a retired composer whose peace is interrupted when an attaché to the royal family starts pestering him, at the request of the Duke of Edinburgh, to come out of retirement to conduct one final concert.

There is much to enjoy, particularly in the comic moments. Caine is on superb form, as is Rachel Weisz, who plays his highly strung daughter. I also loved the obese Maradona proxy lugging his huge frame around the Swiss idyll.

Sorrentino’s eye for a memorable image is still very much in place, too, although Youth is, ultimately, one of his minor works. It covers similar thematic ground to his masterpiece, The Great Beauty, as ageing men reflect on mortality and the years gone by, but doesn’t quite explore it with the same precision or cinematic daring.

While Youth is flawed, Patricia Riggen’s The 33 (12A, 127 mins) is simply a failure, somehow contriving to make a melodrama out of the crisis that befell a group of miners in Chile back in 2010 when the copper and gold mine they were working in collapsed, leaving them trapped for 69 days.

The scenes below ground, led by Antonio Banderas’s Mario, are done efficiently, but it’s above ground, at the camp inhabited by the miners’ loved ones, where the major problems lie. Bad acting and a dodgy script combine to devastating effect, with the decision to make The 33 an English-language film and cast actors such as Juliette Binoche and Gabriel Byrne (whose accent criss-crosses the Atlantic at least a couple of times per sentence) only serving to add to the superficiality of the whole enterprise.

If Banderas and co had known about the disaster unfolding above their heads, they might just have stayed put underground.

This article first appeared in the January 29 2016 issue of The Catholic Herald. To download the entire issue for free with our new app, go here