Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Reel Review: SPOTLIGHT

In 2002, a team of “spotlight” reporters for the Boston Globe newspaper investigated and ran a series of stories concerning Catholic sex abuse cases and cover-ups. The coverage pushed the scandal into the national limelight and inspired other abuse victims to come forward. It was an historical and important event for journalism, and here in 2015, the story is dramatized for the big screen in Thomas McCarthy’s SPOTLIGHT.  

Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) starts a new job at the Boston Globe as Editor, and immediately assigns a team of reporters (played by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d’Arcy James, and Rachel McAdams) to investigate allegations against a defrocked priest accused of molesting over 80 young boys. The investigation leads to a much bigger picture involving a cover-up at the highest levels.

SPOTLIGHT is the second of two films released in 2015 centering on true stories in journalism which challenged the responsibilities and ethics for reporters. SPOTLIGHT unfolds as a procedural, as the team of reporters connect the dots by digging up witnesses, interviewing victims, playing legal games with lawyers, and most of all…going up against a formidable opponent in the form of the Catholic Church of Boston; an organization with deep roots in the community and enough power to make anything go away. It very much is a David vs. Goliath story, and as the shocking revelations come about, SPOTLIGHT puts the audience in stunned silence and in awe of the enormity of the cover-up and the crimes.

SPOTLIGHT on the surface feels like a mystery flick, but as the slow reveal of truths comes out, the film goes into another gear and is a true examination of very talented investigative journalists doing their jobs very well. Director Thomas McCarthy doesn’t waste any time having his reporters endlessly debate over whether or not they should be doing this; the ethics debates are shelved in this movie, and instead lets his characters do their jobs. The importance of good journalism is up front, and after a few stunning twists towards the end, puts the reporters in the position of looking at their profession in a new light. The characters that make up the team are always up front, and their personalities shine through during every stage of their investigation. This is a very compelling film which shocks as much as it grips.

The cast is very inspired. Michael Keaton has a fire in his eye as the leader of the team, and although his Boston accent comes and goes and he’s perhaps a little too grumbly, he definitely gives off the vibe of a seasoned news-man who’s seen some stuff in his career and lifetime. Mark Ruffalo is the reporter on the team who is affected the most emotionally out of the story he’s uncovering, and handles his work very well. Rachel MacAdams and James d’Arcy get equal screentime (it’s very much an ensemble piece) and are both very good. Liev Schreiber turns in a great role, and the supporting cast of John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, and Billy Crudup are excellent.

Despite all of the digging around and interviewing, SPOTLIGHT actually becomes a bit of a thriller, and by the time the credits roll, the importance and massive impact of the story they break is really felt. This is an important movie in style and substance. It owes a lot to the classic journalism film ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN from 1976, which also told the story of reporters uncovering the truth in a nation-wide scandal, and rightfully earns a place on the shelf right next to it.


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