Black Mass, Scott Cooper (2015) & Spotlight, Tom McCarthy (2016)

635909929539022067311335242_11201558_ori imagesWhen Wendy’s out of town I’ll do double-features — when she’s around I feel too embarrassed to sit in front of the TV for four hours straight. Last night’s theme: “STAY AWAY FROM BOSTON!”

But seriously, I appreciated that both of these movies, each based on actual events, are as much (or in the case of Spotlight, more) about the process of uncovering and covering “the story” as they are about the stories themselves. They’re as much historiographical as they are historical, in that both movies acknowledge, even insist, that the “true story” is largely inaccessible, that the truth of exactly what happened is changeable and changing. The church and city officials who were able to convince themselves they were acting in the best interests of the church while abetting child abuse; the FBI agents who believed they were fighting crime by permitting crime; in both stories we see how easy it is for a person’s narrative of their own actions to go off the rails.

And in both cases, it’s Boston Globe journalists who feature as the heroes to bump those narratives back into line with the dictates of civil society. Hooray print journalists! Too bad you’re doomed.

Final note: I can’t fully recommend Black Mass, which features a good deal of unnecessary graphic violence. We get it, the guy’s a psychopath; there’s no need to lavish so much time and attention on closeups of him strangling people to death. More than once! A less tawdry director would have spent more time on the really very interesting and complicated relationships between the main characters and less on the gore.

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