The uncovering of the Catholic Church’s systematic abuse of young boys and girls in January 2002 was amongst the biggest and darkest stories of the decade. Helmed by the “The Boston Globe’s” investigative journalist team, Spotlight, the scandal began with the Boston archdiocese and ended up being a prolonged, worldwide conspiracy the Church had successfully covered up for decades, leading to a Pulitzer Prize in reporting for the heroic efforts of the Spotlight team in 2003.
Hats off to writer and director Tom McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer for an intricately crafted and emotionally devastating film. As a film dealing with such sensitive subject matter, “Spotlight” could have been a self-righteous, “Hollywood-ized” piece of work – but instead, it is a stripped down, taut and riveting look into the world of old-school, grassroots journalism that never loses sight of what the Spotlight reporters were in search of: truth and justice.
Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) is the editor of the Spotlight crew, with Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matty Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James) being the core members. When the new editor of “The Boston Globe,” Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), arrives on scene, he sets Robby and his team upon their path of investigation, alongside “The Globe’s” managing deputy editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery).
With such an outstanding and well-known cast, “Spotlight” wisely doesn’t cater to their star power, but instead portrays them as down-to-earth, everyday people who happen to be very good at what they do. Not a single actor here is recognizable: Keaton is outstanding as the head of the team, without ever feeling entitled or superior, while Mark Ruffalo, McAdams and d’Arcy James are great as relentless reporters in pursuit of the files, records and survivor stories suppressed by the Catholic Church. Schreiber and Slattery are equally compelling.
The city of Boston is made to feel like a living and breathing character in the film. With its run-down projects of Southie to the more affluent sections of Dorchester, it’s a testament to the authentic feel of the film provided by cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi. A scene of Sacha interviewing a survivor who accepted a priest’s sexual abuse as an admission to his own homosexuality is harrowing, or a scene where Robby admits that he failed to tackle the story when it hit his desk years ago is painstakingly honest.
It’s this kind of unblinking truth that McCarthy is trying to penetrate: the world of investigative reporting isn’t flashy or exciting. It’s a methodical and strenuous process of ups and downs, dead ends and revelations. In an age where print media is dying, a film that hits the same notes as famous reporting movies such as “Zodiac” and “All the President’s Men” is refreshing and defiant. Its deliberate pacing may turn off some, but should open the eyes of a less informed generation. The result is one the best films of the year. Perhaps it is the very best.