Robert McKee’s WORKS / DOESN’T WORK Film Review:

Spotlight (2015) | Directed by Tom McCarthy

McKee Says: It Almost Works (Spoiler Alert!)

By genre, SPOTLIGHT is a crime procedural told from the point of view of a team of Boston Globe reporters.  As such, its dramatization of journalistic techniques was quite informative.

The fluid camera style worked nicely.

The storytelling, however, does not work. The tale was tense but shallow because it never touched the depths of moral emotion.

Stories told about famous historical events place us in the position of dramatic irony–meaning, as we sit in our theatre seats, we already know the key facts and the ultimate outcome. Therefore, while we wait for the characters to catch up to us and finally get to the bottom of things, the writer has an obligation to reveal and express what we do not know—the inner truths, the psychological hows and whys of these real life people and the crimes they committed.

By taking the reporters’ point of view, the telling shallowed out into merely complicated detective work. Instead of character complexity and in-depth explorations of the inner and moral contradictions that caused this scandal in the first place, we got a step by step, break by break, argument by argument, frustration by frustration, bad luck/good luck string of events until the scandal finally hit the front pages. The film is reportage about the reportage.

One sure test of a story’s power is the answer to this question:  If the protagonist does not ultimately get what the protagonist wants, what does she or he stand to lose?  In short, what’s the worst possible thing that could happen if the protagonist fails?  Answer:  If The Boston Globe journalists did not get their scoop, then Boston Herald journalists would get it instead.  Almost nothing of value to the world would have been lost.  One way or another, the criminality of the Catholic Church would have been exposed, as it has been all over the world, and the Globe reporters would have gone on with their lives.

Because of the film’s point of view choice, the telling lacks the power of moral dilemma. Here’s a thought: During the decades that priests sexually abused Boston children, Boston lawyers for both the plaintiffs’ families and the church made a lot of money keeping this hideous truth from the world. Why not tell the story from the point of view of a lawyer who makes a living defending sexual criminals who rape children and then say, goes to Mass on Sunday? That could be interesting.

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