SPOTLIGHT (USA/15A/128mins) Directed by Tom McCarthy. Starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Elena Wohl, Billy Crudup. THE PLOT: In 2001, the Spotlight investigative journalism team at the Boston Globe were tasked with uncovering more about a story; the claims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests. Although their readers may not like the outcome of their research, editor Marty Barron (Liev Schrieber) insists that there is story here, so Robby (Michael Keaton), Sacha (Rahcel McAdams), Mike (Mark Ruffalo) and Matt (Brian d’Arcy James) set out to uncover the truth about the case. THE VERDICT: Directed by Tom ‘The Station Agent’ McCarthy, ‘Spotlight’ is based on the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered almost 90 priests who had preyed on young children in Boston, and how the Church simply covered up the crimes, and moved the priests from parish to parish. Although the film is led by characters, these characters spend the entire 128 minutes of the film trying to find the story so while these journalists are people, they are not what the film is about; the story is.
That said, the cast of the film is standout, and they each bring tenacity and just a hint of characterisation to their roles; enough to make the audience root for them, but not enough to overwhelm the story. Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Brian d’Arcy James make up the ‘Spotlight’ team, with Liev Schreiber and John Slattery joining in at the paper. Elsewhere, Stanley Tucci plays Mitchell Garabedian a suspicious but curious lawyer, and Billy Crudup plays a lawyer who has been dealing with the Catholic Church for some time.
Here in Ireland, we are all too aware of the abuses carried out by the Catholic Church in the past, but in framing the story of ‘Spotlight’ through the newspaper, and not necessarily the survivors of abuse, screenwriters Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy approach what could be a familiar story in a new and exciting manner. As well as this, the dialogue is smart, sensitive and simple – but not patronisingly simple – and the survivors’ stories are treated with dignity and respect.
As director, Tom McCarthy keeps the film moving at a decent pace, and allows each of the ‘Spotlight’ team to become emotionally involved with the story in their own way. Their small heartbreaks at the story almost being ignored, and the truths they learn about the institution’s abuse of power in keeping these stories in the dark and the survivors trapped in shame bring a human dimension to the story. That said, McCarthy never allows the story to become overly sentimental, since this is a film about battling through a labyrinth of secrets, lies and legal wrangling.
In all, ‘Spotlight’ is a gripping procedural about secrets, lies and abuse – both sexual and of power. Tom McCarthy has done a rare thing and made a story about a story, where each of the lead actors get just a moment to shine. Compelling and essential storytelling. RATING: 5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
YOUTH (Italy | Switzerland | UK | France/15A/118mins) Directed by Paolo Sorrentino. Starring Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Paul Dano, Paloma Faith, Rachel Weisz, Jane Fonda. THE PLOT: Returning to the Swiss holiday destination he always visited with his wife, retired English composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) finds himself reflecting over his life, with his friend Mick (Harvey Keitel), Fred finds himself hassled by the Palace to perform his famous Simple Songs for the Queen, a request he consistently denies. THE VERDICT: Paolo Sorrentino returns with ‘Youth’, an often claustrophobic and introspective film about getting older and what we hold on to. Michael Caine is at the centre of a film and, when we are introduced to him, he is rebuffing the Queen’s emissary, who is requesting his services to celebrate Prince Philip’s birthday. Although we are later told that his music always came first, to the detriment of his family, Caine has a fatherly quality here – perhaps because Ballinger has retired – even going so far as to help a young kid play violin better. Caine plays Ballinger as a man struggling with both the loss of his youth and his inability to remember much of it, even though it is these experiences who made he is the person today. Harvey Keitel plays against Caine very well; Mick still holding onto the past and funnelling this energy into making his new film, while staying positive about getting older, but slowly revealing his self worth to be hugely tied in with his ego. Rachel Weisz returns to Cannes as Ballinger’s daughter Lena, a woman who relationship has just ended, sending her life into chaos, and who is trying to reconcile this with her new relationship with her father. Paul Dano plays Mick; a young actor who, rather arrogantly, believes that he and Ballinger have made similar mistakes in his career, although Dno is at the beginning of his, and Caine has made the decision to end his own.
Sorrentino’s screenplay is heavily dialogue focused, wth characters hashing out their fears and concerns in conversation. That said, there is a touch of typical Sorrentino elegance, with beautiful dream sequences interspersing the film. There are also several strange moments, such as a couple who never talk to one another being the subject of Caine and Keitel’s fascinations, Dano having a makeup test for a role as Hitler and turning up to dinner in full make up, and Weisz’s character apparently falling for a man whose sole purpose seems to be to teach her to climb.
As director, Sorrentino allows the film to focus on Caine and Keitel, and while their chemistry on screen is wonderful, this is also one of the problems with the film, as it gives ‘Youth’ a feeling of claustrophobia, as though the characters are deliberately shut off from the world, and have no desire to be part of it. There are a couple of laughs here and there, and Caine’s eventual redemption is a thing of beauty, although it comes at the end of some almost insufferable pacing woes.
In all, ‘Youth’ is a dialogue about the time in our lives that forms who we are, and the inability to remember it. Caine and Keitel are great together, Dano’s experiments with stillness are lovely and Jane Fonda has a wonderful cameo late in the film. There are some issues with pacing and self indulgence from time to time, but there is plenty going on in ‘Youth’ to give audiences food for thought. RATING: 3.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE 33 (USA/Chile/12A/127mins) Directed by Patricia Riggen. Starring Antonio Banderas, Juliette Binoche, Gabriel Byrne, Rodrigo Santoro, James Brolin, Lou Diamond Phillips, Mario Casas, Jacob Vargas, Oscar Nunez. THE PLOT: Copiapó, Chile, 2010, and after a farewell party for their eldest co-worker, a busload of miners head off for another hard day’s work deep underground. The mine has been tricky, but the San Esteban Primera Mining Company aren’t paying such warnings much mind. When the mine does collapse, the 33 miners inside manage to make it to a shelter, where there are three days’ rations. As families arrive, it becomes obvious that the chances of an early rescue are slim, and it’s only after 17 days that a line to the miners is drilled, through which supplies can be fed. Realising that their bosses are unlikely to pay compensation, and with the world’s media now watching, the miners start to argue over how best to capitalise on their newfound international fame… THE VERDICT: Based on the 2010 Chilean mining disaster that saw 33 men become an international story as they remained trapped for 69 days 700m underground, in a collapsed, century-old mine. It’s a story rich with potential, with everything from tragedy to comedy (wives and girlfriends of the same men meeting for the first time), and in the right hands, with the right cast, this could be at least ‘Das Boot’ all over again. Instead, we get a motley crew of box-office refugees in front of the camera, and a Mexican teen comedy director behind the camera. And what does that give you? A TV Movie of the Day, that’s what.
Not that Antonio doesn’t sweat for his art here, calling on some of that early Almodovar-era S&M fire, whilst Binoche is the token European arthouse heavyweight, there to add gravitas and some critical heat proceedings. Our own Gabriel Byrne does his Gabriel Byrne thing, and as for Lou Diamond Phillips… Well, you know where you are with a movie when Lou Diamond Phillips name is on the poster.
It doesn’t help that the real-life disaster was played out on real-time in the news, thanks to modern technology. Why a Hollywood makeover was deemed necessary when all the raw footage for a great documentary are there only makes The 33 irritate that little bit more. Maybe they should have turned it into a musical? RATING: 2/5 Review by Paul Byrne
13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI (/15A/145mins) Directed by Michael Bay. Starring John Krasinski, James Badge Dale, Paolo Schrieber, Matt Letscher, Alexia Barlier. THE PLOT: On September 11th 2012, an attack on a temporary consulate in Benghazi killed the US Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens (Matt Letscher). Later that night, a secret CIA compound one mile away was laid siege to, leaving six ex-military officers to protect the base and those within it. THE VERDICT: Based on a true story, this is only the third such tale told by Michael Bay after ‘Pearl Harbour’ and ‘Pain & Gain’. The trouble is that although there is surely a story to be told here, the film descends into a gratuitous bloody fire fight for most of its running time, with little back story and even fewer fleshed out characters.
The cast is led by John Krasinski, who does what he can with the little he is given, but comes out the best since he is given a chance to emote for a moment toward the end of the film. It is clear that Krasinski wanted to try something other than the lovable goofball roles he has become famous for, and while there can be little doubt that the actor can play drama, this was not the film for him to show off his range. The rest of the cast – James Badge Dale, David Costabile, Pablo Schreiber, David Denman, Dominic Fumusa and Max Martini – fare less well, and are watered down to thin one dimensional characters that are more video game characters than those of a film.
Chuck Hogan’s screenplay – based on the book “13 Hours” by Mitchell Zuckoff – is almost criminally underwritten, with subtitles at the start of the film giving the audience the smallest amount of back story needed for the film to function, and little else being given throughout. The characters are drawn incredibly thinly – even for a Michael Bay film – with the only attempt at making them relatable coming from their consistent talking about their children and, in one particular moment, how they have needed to visit the bathroom since before the siege began.
Michael Bay carries on the loud, bright and manic style of filmmaking that he has cultivated through the ‘Transformers’ franchise. Like the robots in disguise, it is hard to tell who is who and which side of the fight they are on – although this is continually pointed out to the audience, so it seems like a plot point. The film is incredibly poorly paced, with almost an hour of the 144 minute running time elapsing before the action begins, and the fire fight itself seeming more like a videogame than one in which human lives were on the line. There are no characters to root for so in the end, the audience is left emotionally checked out.
In all, ’13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi’ could have been an interesting thriller about an attack sparked by events across the world, but as it stands it is a gratuitous and emotionally manipulative film, lacking characters, a coherent plot and someone to root for. RATING: 1/5 Review by Brogen Hayes