Film Review : Spotlight

I don’t usually review films on this blog, but sometimes, I come across a movie that I can’t help talking about. Spotlight is one such. This is a movie that comes highly recommended and it lives up to all the praise. It is a thoroughly well-made film. It is a true story and the subject matter is something that we have all seen before, unfortunately. But what makes this movie special is the way the story has been told. It engages you from the very first frame and it keeps you hooked until it is over. And then…it makes you think.

spotlight

The movie is set in Boston and at the Boston Globe in particular. ‘Spotlight’ is the name of the team of investigative journalists working at the Globe. And the story under the lens here is that of a few catholic priests in the city of Boston who have been accused of molesting children. The film begins with the arrival of a new editor, Marty Baron, who is an outsider in many ways. He’s not from Boston and he’s a Jew. Not that a big deal is made of his Jewishness, but it is alluded to a couple of times.

Boston is a Catholic town and though incidents of molestation have been reported several times, the police have never filed cases against the offending priests and the victims have been too afraid to speak out. Even the newspapers have given the stories as well as the victims, very little attention. The new editor wants to change that. He believes that this is a story that needs to be told.

Considering how many of these incidents have been reported, he wants the Globe to do a proper story on it, complete with follow ups and details. Because it is clear that neither the accused priests not the Catholic Church will be tried in a court of law and stories like this will continue to be buried and children will continue to be at risk.

The Spotlight team is given this assignment and they find themselves wondering why they haven’t really pursued these stories so far. They just all got buried somehow.  As they start digging and finding out things, they are revolted, angered and looking for some semblance of justice. Soon they are all deeply invested and though they find themselves blocked again and again, they push on and in the end, they get the story with all of the sickening evidence. And they put it out there for the city to read.

This movie tackles a painful and uncomfortable subject, but it does it with grace and restraint. A story like this is always going to feel like a kick in the gut, but since the focus is on the journalistic aspect of it, it is a bit easier to handle. It makes you feel for the victims, but it does so with enviable gentleness and without ever getting preachy.  I’m not going to call it entertainment, but it is a story about people fighting for truth and justice and it is told in a riveting manner. It is a picture of what responsible journalism can be like and it is a must see for that reason alone.

Movie Review : The Martian

The Martian Launch One Sheet

I have never done a movie review here on this blog (it is meant to be a book blog, after all), but this is a movie based on a book, The Martian by Andy Weir, which is one of the best science fiction books that I have ever read. I have been raving about the book and waiting for the movie for months, so now that I have finally seen it, I can’t not talk about it. I’m not going to go into any detail about the story because I have already done that in my review of the book which you can find here.

Was the movie worth the wait? Not quite, but I’m glad I saw it. The book was excellent and very visual. The descriptions and the the settings were so vivid, that I could see it all playing out in my head as I read the book. So the movie had to be spectacular to impress. And it was, it was quite a visual spectacle and the huge Martian vistas were a joy to see as were the scenes shot inside the space-ship and the final scenes shot in space, just above Mars.

But the best feature of the book, was the science in it. The entire story is a problem solving exercise…one situation after another that the protagonist (and the other characters, to some extent) have to face and find a way through, using their knowledge of science and combining it with a fair bit of ingenuity, courage and recklessness. The recklessness comes through in the movie, but the science doesn’t.

Nearly half of the book is written in the form of a log, a diary if you will, in which Mark Watney (the protagonist) talks about each new situation that he finds himself in. Then he explains exactly what he’s going to do to get out of that situation and why. That adds a certain immediacy to the book which the movie tries to mimic, with Watney doing a video log and talking to the camera.

This works, but the dialogue in the movie, perhaps inevitably, lacks the amount of detail you get in the book. This detail is what makes the book so realistic. It shows you the sheer scale of the problems that Watney faces and the extent of ingenuity, courage and almost pigheaded determination that he displays and this is what has you cheering for him.

Everything in the movie looked a little too easy, to be honest. You don’t see or feel the struggle and the frustration that Watney has to go through to solve each problem. The book and the movie span a period of nearly 600 days. The passage of time is gradual in the book, but it is a bit rushed through in the movie. Also the movie is missing a couple of major sequences from the book, which is a feature of most movies made from books so I won’t complain about that.

The movie does not do justice to the book, but that does not make it a bad movie. The Martian is a good movie and you can enjoy it by itself, though I suspect there are things you simply won’t understand if you haven’t read the book. But not understanding a few things here and there won’t keep you from enjoying the movie. The visuals alone are entirely worth a trip to the theatre.

And then there’s the cast…the casting is spot on. Every actor suits the character that they have been chosen to play and they all do justice to their roles, particularly Matt Damon who plays the lead. I was sceptical about Matt Damon when I first heard about the casting. I couldn’t see him as Mark Watney, but he made me change my mind. He had to carry quite a bit of the movie all by himself and I think he did it very well.

So, go see the movie.  If you like a good story, you will enjoy it. But read the book as well, because it is vastly better than the movie.