Film Review: Spotlight

Spotlight is a very good journalistic drama, starring an excellent ensemble, that won’t let you go from start to finish.

Spotlight is a division of The Boston Globe that tracks, researches and reports on big stories. Stories that take time to get right, and the biggest story they ever broke shook the Catholic Church in a way that changed the public’s perception of it forever. The story Spotlight follows its namesake on was published in early 2002 and it exposed the Church’s institutional acceptance of child molestation and the protection it provided its priests that carried out these terrible acts.

The Spotlight team that broke this story consists of four individuals; Walter Robinson is the team’s editor, Michael Rezendes is the team’s bulldog, Sacha Pfeiffer handles many of the team’s interviews and Matt Carroll handles a lot of the research. The team isn’t restricted to those individual roles, they all do a bit of everything, but Tom McCarthy’s film does a great job of giving each and every one of these people and identity and character we can get behind. The Globe’s editor, Marty Baron is another major piece of this story, as well as Ben Bradlee who is another editor at the news room level. We get to see these guys work this story, step by step, and wait till the absolute right moment to break this story.

Now, a film about journalists breaking a story has the potential to not be all that interesting, but the film assembled here is taught and thrilling throughout. A big part of this has to do with the compelling cast at play, but the film’s subject matter is about as compelling and frustrating as it gets. The evils of religion shine through in a number of ways, but sexual child abuse is about as bad as it can get outside extremists violence against innocents. McCarthy does a great job of not just painting the church as this horrible entity, we all know good can come out of religions, but it also doesn’t pull the punches at any turn. In fact, the film does a great job of playing with that dynamic and showing how that struggle to take down the church, especially in a town like Boston, can lead to a lot of roadblocks and conflicted emotions. McCarthy’s direction is pretty straight forward, but it’s solid through and through. This isn’t a story that needs flash and beauty, there’s nothing beautiful about the work and grind it takes to break stories like these, but McCarthy still manages to work in some excellent frames from time to time all the same. They usually evolve around Marty Baron, who’s always just in the corner of the frame it seems when we are in that newsroom.

The cast filling out the Spotlight team and its supporters is excellent from top to bottom and they really make the film work as well as it does. Mark Ruffalo plays Rezendes with a relentlessness you can’t help but admire, with a borderline autistic disregard for other’s emotions. I could watch a whole film about Rezendes break stories and annoying people, but we get just the right amount of him here all the same. Rachel McAdams is solid as always Pfeiffer, and she really holds together some of the film’s tougher scenes when she interviews a couple of victims. Michael Keaton is great as the team’s editor, Robinson, and I love getting to see him bounce off of John Slattery and Liev Schreiber as Bradlee and Baron, respectively. Schreiber is quietly amazing as Marty Baron, being the calm center of this building storm in Spotlight that wants to get this story out in the open. Spotlight isn’t rushing things, but Baron is the force that keeps them digging until it’s just right, and Schreiber is so stoically perfect as he steers the ship. Stanley Tucci is also excellent, as always, as a lawyer who is defending victims of the church and gets to go toe to toe with Ruffalo. The two give us some of the best scenes in the film. Billy Crudup is also delightfully smarmy as a lawyer for the church, you just want to smack that smile off his face every time he comes back on to the screen.

Spotlight has a lot to like and pretty much nothing to complain about. It is a great film that gives us the behind the scenes look at this story that changed the Catholic church, worldwide, and it was done so by a team of 4 people working out of the basement of The Boston Globe. The film is also an actors’ showcase, featuring one of the year’s best ensembles, and shouldn’t be missed by any fans of good filmmaking.

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