Mark Ruffalo received his third Oscar nomination for portraying Mike Rezendes in Spotlight.
Spotlight as a film takes a specifically rather unassuming approach in potentially very incendiary material, just imagine if say Oliver Stone made the film instead for example. Although there's a definite emotional undercurrent to the story, the film stays focused on the way the reporters found the facts of the matter to build their story, while they often have to internalize what they learn from each new witness. The cast seems to understand that and for the most part they give performances that focus on being realistic above else, well except for the guy I'm reviewing today. The first time we meet Mark Ruffalo's Mike Rezendes is when we follow Michael Keaton's Robby Robinson as he enters the Spotlight room which will be heading the investigation. The other people are doing their jobs and in turn just seem like normal people doing their jobs, then there is Mark Ruffalo. Oh Mike's doing his job too, but there just seems something odd about it as he speaks to his fellow reporters. Everything he says he delivers quickly with a strange monotone way of speaking, and then just the way Ruffalo leans over his desk it as though Mike seems to be preparing for an off Broadway production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Unfortunately this is not one odd scene for Mike, this is Ruffalo's whole performance. No matter what's going on in the scene Ruffalo feels he has to do something a bit atypical. He's always leaning in some odd way, his expressions in the group meeting scenes always have this odd gaze to them, his hands frequently find his pockets as though he's James Dean looking for a nickle. He even gets on some good old gum chewing just for good measure. There's not a scene where Ruffalo heeds to the criminal's warning "act natural". Everything he does is seemingly to get you to say is that oh boy that Mike Rezendes sure is a character. What I'm trying to say is that this is an extremely mannered performance, as about as mannered of a performance can get to be honest. Ruffalo does not seem to be content to do anything just you know, normal, it all has to be something else. Now my two favorite Ruffalo performances are Foxcatcher and Zodiac. Those are technically both mannered themselves. The thing is though those performances you don't notice are mannered until you are getting into a detailed discussion about them. Everything he did in those two performances seemed right for the respective characters, and seemed to fit right in with the rest of the film.
That is not the case in Spotlight. Everyone else gives performances that honestly are very supportive of each other only trying to standout when it is the right time to. Ruffalo always wants to stand out which is ill fitting for the calm way everyone else plays their parts. The funny thing is there is another technically very mannered performance in the film. That being Liev Schreiber's as the new boss of the Globe. What Schreiber does though is unassuming in a way that it just feels natural to his character, in addition to that he never seems to be doing it to directly get attention, that always seems to be the case for Ruffalo. Now Ruffalo does indeed stand out in any scene he is in, but unfortunately that's not a good thing. In the group scenes he's just distracting as the rest of the ensemble is playing it straight, keeping the focus on the story, but Ruffalo is busy doing something weird that surely Mike Rezendes must do. Ruffalo can't seem to help himself and the problem is that it hurts the film. There is one moment where one of the victims is telling his story, a moving scene to be sure, but when the victim reveals his dad committed suicide Ruffalo's odd delivery of "Jesus!" instantly makes the scene lose some its power as it all of the sudden seems to be about Ruffalo's performance rather than the victim's story.
For most of the film Ruffalo just stands as this oddball thing interacting with real people. He's a blemish in any frame because he just can't seem genuine even for a moment, and is particularly off-putting due to the film's very straight forward style. Now though he's the wrong kind of distraction for the most of the film, which is made up to a point by the fine work by the rest of ensemble, another bigger problem comes near the end of the film. The film again plays it low key as most of the actors just internalize either the pain or disgust involved with the molestation as well as the cover up. That is until one of them has a bit of an emotional outburst. It could have been an great moment if the scene belonged to one of the other actors, but instead this is given to old Ruffalo. Ruffalo does not build up to this point because he's too stuck in his weird slants and cockeyed looks to effectively build the outrage brewing in Mike. Ruffalo does not earn it in the least, the passion feels sanctimonious unfortunately, and frankly a bit whiny. When Keaton's Robby asks him in exasperation "You Finished?", that's how I felt as well. The moment should have been cathartic but its not because of Ruffalo. Apparently Ruffalo prepared for the role by asking the real Mike Rezendes to say lines for him. Perhaps Ruffalo has never seen the Jackie Robinson Story, but asking the real guy to play himself isn't always the best idea. This actually makes sense as Ruffalo's performance feels like an imitation of an imitation. It's all surface posturing from Mark Ruffalo as he not only fails to make Mike Rezendes convincing as a character, but he fails the film itself. His presence hurts the film as he becomes something false within a film that is striving for authenticity.