Spotlight Review | TIFF 2015

Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight

As print journalism continues to die off, and investigative reporting as it used to be known continues to be minimal in existence, Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight focuses on a specific point in journalism history. The subject that the film tackles is one that makes a case for why investigative journalism should be more important to newspapers, and shines an unflattering light on the news, judicial systems, and the church. It is never completely scathing of any system – it wants to expose the flaws in all of them, but also wants to retain recognition of their importance.

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Zero Dark Thirty Paints a Gritty, Disheartening and Important Portrait of the Truth

Zero Dark Thirty Theatrical Poster

Zero Dark Thirty Theatrical Poster

Title: Zero Dark Thirty
Genre(s): Drama, History, Thriller
Director(s): Kathryn Bigelow
Release Year2012

Few events in recent memory have caused as much public and media uproar as the day a raid was conducted on Osama Bin Laden’s secret compound, resulting in the death of the most prominent target in over a decade; if anything, it effectively showcased the sheer power a singular person could have over an entire population. While a film adaptation of the hunt was already underway, courtesy of Oscar-winning team Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, this new change in facts led to inevitable changes as well as an entirely new conclusion, effectively rewriting the film. As politically driven as its subject matter is however, it’s relieving then that Zero Dark Thirty rarely feels like anything other than a thoroughly tense thriller; as familiar as the events depicted in the film may feel, Bigelow and Boal have managed to plot out a gripping and thought-provoking drama around these dates, successfully dramatizing a decade long manhunt. It’s unfortunate then that politics had to interfere with the film’s release, leading to an unwarranted and baseless case of public shunning, nullifying its chances of taking home any top awards, if any. Anything but a piece of propaganda, Zero Dark Thirty stands tall as one of 2012’s most important film.

Chronicling the decade-long manhunt through a series of important dates, Zero Dark Thirty drops us into the muck of things; we hear the distressed voices of those within the World Trade Center while being plummeted into darkness, without a visual to accompany any of it. What follows is a series of uncomfortable interrogation sequences, punctuated by torturous methods and agonized screams. Here, we’re introduced to Maya (Jessica Chastain), a woman who initially appears to show reluctance and yet thrives on her persistence to find the man responsible. Even when faced with dead ends and loosely plotted leads, this persistence drives her to waking hours, attempting to find the slightest connections within this minefield of clues. Though numerous tragedies begin to pile up and hope to find their target, along with morale, begin to sharply dwindle, Maya never lets it impede her work, never committing to anything other than the mission. When she’s finally presented with the chance to take out her supposed target by her superiors nearly 10 years later, Maya, without flinching (and visibly sleep deprived), accepts her mission; it quite literally becomes the chance of a lifetime. While The Hurt Locker focused on a bomb defuser’s addiction to his job, being thrust into life-threatening situations and the conflicting thoughts that ran through his mind in the midst of it all, Zero Dark Thirty takes a more detached angle while utilizing a similar character thematic. Maya, and many of the other characters for that matter, aren’t exceptionally well-developed, or even very likable characters but then again, they never have to be; by skewing this protagonistic angle so familiar in Hollywood cinema, Boal’s script ends up placing the audience in a jury, letting them see the evidence themselves without the presence of a lawyer tricking or manipulating them.

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Lincoln scratches his beard just like any other man.

Lincoln Theatrical Poster

Genre(s) Biography, History, Drama
Director(s)Steven Spielberg
Release Year2012
Rotten Tomatoes93%

With most biopics, the reason we are so interested in them is because they threaten to take their star down from his powerful placement in history, and show him as human rather than god. This year we get two hotly anticipated films which will attempt to do just that: Hitchcock and Lincoln. Both men have contributed so much in their respective fields that they are rarely seen in a bad light, nor are people ecstatic to see them portrayed as mere men. However, I can definitely say Lincoln attempts to show Abraham Lincoln as one of us, and not merely an icon placed upon an unreachable pedestal. With incredible acting on the part of everyone, but especially Sally Field and Daniel Day-Lewis, and writing by Tony Kushner that is both enticing and fitting for the period, Lincoln is a concrete example of how to make a biopic flourish while still being faithful and engrossing.

I am not a history major, nor will I attempt to believe I know a lot about Lincoln’s political and personal life. However, the picture that was portrayed by Kushner, and subsequently Steven Spielberg, of President Lincoln seemed chillingly honest. With a quick search on the internet, I’m sure there are many aspects to Lincoln’s life that were fabricated (for example, did Lincoln really hit his wife? It’s possible, but only once or twice judging by the portrayal in the film) but it’s not whether it’s fabricated that matters when it comes to film, but whether we believe it could be true. That is the power of film, and with that ounce of fiction in something, there’s a chance to make something interesting rather than the portrayal of a man who simply passed an amendment and then got assassinated. That really is what this film is about: following Lincoln’s attempts to pass the 13th amendment to abolish slavery and his trials and tribulations within that time. For a movie that is about passing an amendment it was rather interesting, but that helps from it being so well-acted, and having some incredible dialogue. Unfortunately, my complaint with Lincoln is not that it took too many liberties with the life of Honest Abe, but that not enough were taken to pull him from that status of being impeachable. I think there’s one part of his life that happens off-screen which could have easily shown him more human than anything else, but instead it was decided for it to occur off-screen, presumably to keep that god-like aura around Lincoln.

Check out the rest of the review after the jump