Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Alternate Best Supporting Actor 2015: Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber and Stanley Tucci in Spotlight

Michael Keaton, did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Walter "Robby" Robinson, nor did Liev Schreiber for portraying Marty Baron, nor did Stanley Tucci for portraying Mitchell Garabedian in Spotlight.

It needs to be said that Spotlight is a film with a great acting ensemble, well except of course one of the actors who was Oscar nominated for it. The smaller roles are essential in receiving insight into its Boston setting and honestly feeling the effects caused by the Catholic Church sex scandals that the journalist of the Boston Globe are trying to uncover. Now within those trying to uncover the scandal there is a nice variations of personalities. The head of the team tasked with uncovering it, the titular spotlight, is headed by Robby Robinson played by Michael Keaton. Keaton's performance is actually very low key right down to his sorta Boston accent that one could argue is consistent, but one could also argue is realistic rendering of someone with a light Boston accent. Either way it's not a big deal. Despite being head of the team Keaton does give this large overly commanding performance, but is very believable as a more likable type of boss. Keaton makes it clear when he's demanding something from one the writers, but he does this in a very authentic way, suggesting just how comfortable the Spotlight team is with one another.

Now what's great about the film though is the ease in which the film depicts the various personalities involved with the story while still spreading the focus all around. Despite being the head of Spotlight the man who actually provokes the investigation is the new Editor-in-chief for the Globe Marty Baron, played by Liev Schreiber. Liev Schreiber often seems to be the right actor in the wrong film so it is good to see him in something a little better for once. Schreiber technically gives a very mannered performance, but unlike he who shall not be named, does it well. One would just assume that this is the way Schreiber really is in, in his calm low pitched voice, his slightly shy demeanor, his slow way of speaking and just his particular way of interacting with others. Schreiber's performance is very interesting in the way he plays it. Marty is probably a guy who was shy in the past, but has gotten over that for the most part. The certain trademarks that go along with that behavior is still evident but he is not being controlled by that in any way. In addition to that. Marty is going to a whole new place, as well as being seen as an outsider, this will make him seem all the more out of the loop which Schreiber portrays in such a natural fashion.

What's intriguing about Schreiber's performance is that despite having that certain awkwardness that would go with a shyness, he is not a meek figure in the film, as again he is basically the only one who sees what everyone else failed to. Schreiber's really effective in the way he actually has this dominating presence in a very unique fashion. Though he never even comes close to raising his voice Schreiber actually carries this incisiveness in his delivery, as he goes about it in his own way, and there is always the sense that it would be impossible to deter Baron from his stance. It's remarkable as Schreiber is able to do this effortlessly, as he makes Baron a truly persuasive man, whose in charge without question, yet never has to force his hand. Schreiber presents the whole personality of Marty Baron just so flawlessly, and it's quite something that he's able to still give an engaging performance by giving one that would appear as low energy. Schreiber though makes it so that Marty certainly does not come off as though the actor portraying him is tired, but rather this is merely a man who we are seeing in his normal behavior.

Baron's own interest is set off though by an article about the lawyer taking on the case of the victims against the church, Mitch Garabedian played by Stanley Tucci. Now in a way Garabedian is a pseudo deep throat for the story, though he remains secretive rather than secret for a very specific reason. Garabedian wants the story out in the open, but he cannot divulge very much information on the case lest he be disbarred. Tucci plays a character who  is described as a character, but he resists the urge to overact, something Tucci is capable of. Tucci certainly brings a flamboyancy to the role that feels exactly right for his character, who most definitely has many time needed to yell in order to get his day in court. Tucci does not allow this overwhelm his performance though as there is this certain precision of the way he talks, as though he's always getting to the point, given his amount of clients this would be the only way he could be. He carries himself with the right haggard qualities suggesting the burden of his job so well. Tucci's very good in his first scene though especially in the way he uses his eyes as he watches the reporter (some guy) as though he's trying to decipher him a bit, seeing whether or not talking to this man will be beneficial or not for his clients.

Tucci is incredibly good at portraying the way Garabedian is not just in it for the potential money from the settlements of the victims. Tucci does this so quietly yet so eloquently as he reveals an earnest passion in Garabedian as he speaks about the crimes. He also importantly always portrays a strong undercurrent of empathy in Garabedian as he interacts with the few clients we see him with. Tucci carries the right charity in these interactions showing always Garabedian as well aware of what they've suffered, and is trying to do his best only to help them in any way he can. When he mentions to the reporter the fate of many of the victims, Tucci does well to deliver this just as blunt concern for the victims. Though it must be said that much of the cast does a fine job of providing the human  element in their reactions during the scenes of the victim's testimonies, except for two of the performances that I'm covering here. Schreiber does not since Marty never directly works on the case, only providing oversight to the team to make sure they get the story right, and Michael Keaton,  even though he's the head of the investigative team, though he technically does bear witness to as many of the testimonies as the others.

Keaton plays these scenes very close to the chest, but again finds the right nuance within this. It is not as though Robby is detached from any of the stories, but rather Keaton illustrates well the analytical method of the man. Keaton always shows that he is listening very carefully, but takes it all in through his own way which is to stay very reserved. There is never a question though that Robby does not also care about the victims' plight, but rather he's a man who stays professional above all else. Keaton rather skillfully reveals Robby's personal outrage in the scenes where he goes about questioning people involved with the crimes in some way, and demanding an actual answer. Keaton reveals the right intensity in these moments as Robby's distaste is keenly felt at the right moment. There's even more to it than that, as Keaton carefully alludes to something else whenever it is mentioned that the Globe received information about the cases beforehand. There's an underlying unease Keaton suggests in these moments, as though Robby is unsure of whether or not he is remembering something important correctly. He effectively builds on this unease, to the point that you could even miss it on an initial viewing of the film, but Keaton makes it feel very real as Robby has to accept his own failures of the past.

Keaton actually has the one character with a major arc, though its handled in such a subtle fashion by both the film and his performance it sneaks up on you. Keaton delivers so well though that its surprisingly powerful when Robby must admit that he failed to act just as so many did. All three of these performances work even past the notion of having a character arc. They are part of an ensemble in the best possible way. They just add to the film, giving it all the more character, in just how effortlessly they inhabit their roles. Though you barely learn anything about any of their personal lives, you definitely feel that Robby, Marty and Garabedian live outside of the confines of the story. Though to be fair the same can be said about everyone else in the cast, except somebody I'm still not going to mention. The three of them make the right impact. All three have scenes where they stand out but it's always at the right time. Keaton in his confrontation scenes. Tucci's especially great in a memorable scene where Garabedian explains his plan as lawyer, as he reveals the shrewdness of the man, though also still with that layer of concern as it also acts as a bit of a warning about the powers against everyone trying to make the scandal public as well. Schreiber is understated as usual in a pivotal moment where they talk about not taking action earlier. Schreiber makes Marty's reassuring speech to everyone resonate powerfully, as he presents such genuine warmth in his support in his words, while still Marty stays his usual low key self. These are three very strong supporting performances, that never distract from the story, but rather only help to alleviate it to even greater heights.


Michael Patison said...

Ratings and thoughts on the rest of the cast (if you haven't already given them), so James, McAdams, Slattery, Crudup, and anybody else you want to include.

Matt Mustin said...

I think he gave thoughts on the cast when he saw it.

Michael Patison said...

Well if he did, I can't find it, so hopefully someone can.

I also completely agree with Louis when he says that you can picture all of the movie's characters living life outside of the story's confines. Obviously not Ruffalo, whom I have trouble picturing as anything other than a guy nobody would talk to or want to be around for any semi-extended amount of time, much less be friends with.

moviefilm said...

My ratings on these:
Keaton - 2.5
Schreiber - 4 (MVP)
Tucci - 3.5

Robert MacFarlane said...

Initially my three favorites of the cast were Tucci, Schreiber, and Crudup, but over time I've come to appreciate Keaton's and McAdams's work a lot more. I can't stop thinking about McAdams's scene with her grandmother near the end. Her anxious waiting then transformed into guilt over the course of that little moment might be one of my favorite things in Spotlight.

Robert MacFarlane said...

Also, I love your insistence not to name Ruffalo during the review. "Some guy" indeed.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Great review as always. Tucci's my MVP, though Schreiber and Keaton weren't far behind. :)

Luke Higham said...

McAdams - 4(Although my problem with her is often she does not really register, here with a very understated character I thought her performance worked quite well. She's effectively conveys basically the style of her character's way of deriving information she needs as she brings this certain assertive incisive quality while always bringing a genuinely empathetic front as she convincingly shows how she breaks down the barriers away from the story. Also, like most of the cast, her portrayal just feels honest and even though the background details are sparse you meet a person that lives past the confines of getting the story)

d'Arcy James - 3.5(He gets the least to do out of the Spotlight crew, but he does very well just to still make you feel like you've gotten to know something about his character in the few scenes he does get to himself not mention thrives very well in the group dynamic moments.)

Slattery - 3.5(The fact that he plays Ben Bradlee Jr. is almost too perfect. I quite liked his performance that indeed served a similair purpose to Jason Robards as the Sr Bradlee. Slattery never makes his character's objections ever seem that of a obstacle but rather well reasoned arguments of a passionate man. Again though like almost everyone else he's just really good in the margins of the film so to speak)

Crudup - 3.5(Appropriately slick with just enough slime without going overboard in his scenes, but I also quite liked his moment where he defends himself where Crudup shows the shark persona fade away)

Jenkins - 3.5(For only being a voice over the phone he makes quite the impact. I did not recognize him and found every scene he spoke in extremely compelling, as he helps to make a pivotal revelation scene (of just a group of people listening to a phone call) absolutely captivating.)

The actors playing the victims or just other minor side roles were also uniformly good.

Psifonian said...

All are good but not quite great when taken individually, but when put together, the ensemble is damn near watertight. There's no room for showboating or "look at me, Ma!" tics, which is why Ruffalo sticks out like such a sore thumb (seriously, Academy?!).

Robert MacFarlane said...

I guess I'm more enthusiastic about the ensemble overall, because I kind of thought most of the cast reached "great" status.

Anonymous said...

Great review as always.
Louis: What are your thoughts on Singin in the Rain as a movie? And what rating would you give it?

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Your Top Ten for Costume Design and your thoughts on the technical aspects of Macbeth.

Also, have you finished Wolf Hall.

Louis Morgan said...


Thanks and noted.


On re-watch I'd move James up to a 4.

Found the technical elements of Macbeth to be rather impeccable as it managed to create some very striking imagery well seeming to pay homage to history, while still finding its own unique style.

Not yet.

Top Ten Costumes:

1. The Hateful Eight
2. Macbeth
3. Crimson Peak
4. The Revenant
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
6. Far From The Madding Crowd
7. Cinderella
8. Carol
9. Ex Machina
10. Brooklyn

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Can I have your thoughts on Jonathan Pryce and Anton Lesser in Wolf Hall.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: And anyone else who didn't make it past the 5th episode.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: What are your 5 or 10 disappointments of 2015. It could be a film, performance etc.

Anonymous said...

Luke: Two of his disappointments are Redmayne's performances in The Danish Girl and Jupiter Ascending.

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: No Way. :) I think Gyllenhaal in Southpaw might be a disappointment, not because of the performance itself, but not being allowed to realize the potential of the role.

Anonymous said...

Luke: Maybe Southpaw needed a better director and script.

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: Definitely.

ruthiehenshallfan99 said...

I'm a sucker for period pieces, so when it comes to costume design, Louis' 6-8 will likely be my 1-3 (with Cinderella at 1). At least once I see them.

Anonymous said...

Louis if you had to choose which of Johnny Depps three Oscar Nominations would you say was the best?

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: It's Sweeney Todd.

Robert MacFarlane said...

I would vote Pirates in a landslide. Then again I also love him in that one.

Calvin Law said...

I might be in the minority but I thought all three of his nominations were fairly well deserved.

Anonymous said...

Calvin: Many Johnny Depp fans would agree with you that his three nominations were well deserved.

Luke Higham said...

Anonymous: I'll be honest, I quite like his work in COTBP and Sweeney Todd. Didn't care all that much for Finding Neverland.

Robert MacFarlane said...

He's actually my 2003 win for Pirates. Thought he was fine in both Finding Neverland and Sweeney Todd, but not great.

Louis Morgan said...


Pryce - (He was in it less than I expected him to be, and in terms of total Wolsey impact I think Welles is still my favorite rendition. Nevertheless Pryce really is good as he basically wears his influence on Cromwell, and reflects to a certain extent Rylance's work. Pryce is nicely calm and dignified in the role, but he projects that needed power of personality at the right times. In addition he is rather moving in portraying Wolsey's slow decay, particularly his final scene)

Lesser - (His casting I think was a mistake, he's a great snake in Game of Thrones, but I don't think that's what More should have been. I would have found it more interesting if at times you could see "The Man For All Seasons" but the more you saw of him the less that came true. Nevertheless as the show's approach, which is basically as a pompous villain, Lesser actually I do think is quite effective. Past that even I think he does try to bring a certain grace to the character at moments, even if the show does not allow him to explore these elements. I really think the way More was used was a missed opportunity in general, I mean even in his final scene Cromwell's reaction suggests that he was different character than the one we got)

I'll give you one each:


Slow West


Jake Gyllenhaal in Southpaw