Hollywood loves to make movies about Hollywood, and in that spirit, journalists love to watch movies about journalists. It’s impossible to say how many careers All The President’s Men inspired, but even in a time when traditional print journalism seems to be tolling a death knell, Spotlight may well be a film to spark a desire to join The Fifth Estate in some youths of today. This painstaking portrait of the process by which tireless Spotlight staffers at The Boston Globe worked to expose the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese — a revelation that shocked the world and shook the Catholic Church to its very core.
Tom McCarthy confidently directs his top notch cast in a film that demands complete attention and rewards astute viewers with a taut, insightful and powerful drama that documents not only relentless reporting, but the humans who made it possible. Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfieffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy Adams) make up the core Spotlight investigative team who doggedly pursue the truth for months. They are aided, and occasionally challenged, by editors Ben Bradlee, Jr. (John Slattery) and Marty Baron (Liev Schrieber) and crusading lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci).
Like other research and reporting triumphs — Woodword and Bernstein aside, we’re talking Zodiac here — Spotlight is driven by conversations and dominated by scenes showing the reporters badgering sources and pouring over piles and piles of research, arguing about the best path ahead and when to publish. The jolts of drama and excitement come from a second of conversation or a line on a paper, so keyed in is the captive audience that this is all the film needs.
The film likewise showcases the toll this investigation takes on the lives of those most central to it — they’re imperfect, all of them. Sacha Pfieffer suddenly finds herself unable to go to church with her grandmother, but unable to confide in her why. Robby pushes his old friends and contacts to the brink. Matt Carroll is racked with guilt at his knowledge of a “rehabilitation” home for offending priests and his inability to warn his neighbors about it. In this way we see that our heroes aren’t without chinks in their own armor, and they are just as profoundly affected by what they are uncovering as the community they serve.
Spotlight is a well-acted, smartly written, keenly directed drama that reminds us of what The Fifth Estate is capable of at its best, as well as the depths of human emotion ranging from compassion to deception.