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Spotlight (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 1, 2020




Starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, Brian d’Arcy James, Maureen Keiller, Paul Guilfoyle, Jamey Sheridan, Len Cariou, Neal Huff, Michael Cyril Creighton, Elena Wohl, Gene Amoroso, Doug Murray and Sharon McFarlane.

Screenplay by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer.

Directed by Tom McCarthy.

Distributed by Open Road Films.  128 minutes.  Rated R.

If you watch the news, you’ll see the likes of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz getting ginned-up applause from their constituencies for their tired bullshit claims that things aren’t really what you think – all bad things are just the media trying to stir things up.

Spotlight is proof that the media is a necessary and vital component of life.  And while the newspaper business has taken a huge hit in the internet age, true investigative journalism is more important than ever – if much harder to find.  Everyone on the internet thinks they can write and they are an expert – and this is coming from someone who writes on the internet – but real reporting is hard to find in a world where TMZ and Fox “News” pass as legitimate media.

If Spotlight is a eulogy for the newspaper business, it is a glorious one.  Spotlight is a throwback to the classic newspaper films – a spiritual cousin of everything from All the President’s Men to Zodiac to The Paper to State of Play to even (in its lighter moments) His Girl Friday. 

Spotlight takes on a highly controversial subject, the sexual child abuse scandal that broke about the Catholic Church in the early 2000s, and looks at the story with smart, nuanced and mostly impartial journalistic take.

This is not just a wholesale indictment of religion (though I have no doubt many people who don’t see the film will accuse it of being just that), instead it takes the much more tricky narrative tack of showing that some very bad things can be done in the name of some very good things.  And nearly as bad as the crimes that were being committed was a systemic agreement to look the other way and cover up the crimes rather than to deal with them.

“Spotlight” is the special investigative department of The Boston Globe.  Unlike most reporters for the newspaper, Spotlight spends months, even years on a single story, doing deep research and uncovering every sentient fact they can before it finally sees print.  They find their own stories, and then have complete carte blanche to put them together.

In 2001, the department was headed by Walter “Robby” Robinson – played by Michael Keaton in a terrific role which shows that his Birdman resurrection was not a fluke.  Robbie is a local kid (his old high school is across the street from the newspaper’s offices) who has grown up at the paper and knows everyone and all the local customs and politics.

His team was made up of three reporters.  There was Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), a hard-headed and slightly jaded reporter who still holds on doggedly to his inner goodness.  Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) is a lapsed Catholic girl who has specializes in tracking down difficult information.  Then there is Matt Carroll (Brian D’Arcy James), a local family guy who believes in the basic good of the people around him.

Their lives are turned around when a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) joins the paper from a stint in Miami.  In a slight breach of protocol, Baron (who was Jewish and not beholden to Boston protocols) suggested they look into a story which was considered a dead end, about a priest who had molested some children in different parishes.  The more they investigate the story, the deeper it goes, until it hits the point where it threatens to upset the entire Boston archdiocese, perhaps even reaching as high as Boston’s Cardinal John Law (Len Cariou).

Spotlight turns the horrifying story into some wonderful investigative fiction.  It does not exploit its sensational story line, instead does the much more impressive job of putting a human face on the victims and investigators, even the people being looked into.

There is no black and white here, the supposed bad guys can do good things and the good guys don’t always do their due diligence.  One of the most quietly devastating moments in the film was at one point when Robby realized that years earlier, when he was in another position with the paper, he too may have ignored or dismissed information which might have broken the story years earlier, though he has absolutely no memory of ever receiving it.

All in all, it makes for a troubling but glorious film.  Right now, Spotlight should be the front runner for next year’s Best Picture Oscar.  Yes, it’s that good.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2015 All rights reserved. Posted: December 12, 2015.

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