If Tom McCarthy was looking for a way to make you forget he directed the atrocious Adam Sandler comedy “The Cobbler”, then the no-frills journalistic drama “Spotlight” was the right way to go. Billed largely as an expose of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, the film is so much more than that, and yet it doesn’t get bogged down in the typical Hollywood embellishments. It’s about the power of investigative journalism and the heroism in telling a story that serves the people, even if it destroys an institution in the process.
“Spotlight” is basically everything the film”Truth” set out to be but just came up short in accomplishing. It follows a dogged quest for answers by a group of seasoned Boston Globe reporters who revealed in a blistering story the rampant sexual abuse of children by clerics in the area. This was 2001 when the investigation began; just on the edge of when newspapers were starting to feel the sting of the Internet and were making the move to info-tainment rather than hard news. Deep, investigative journalism was already dying out around the country, and there’s the sense that this story could be the last big one for the Globe’s “Spotlight” team.
Michael Keaton leads the way as the resolute Walter “Robby” Robertson; Mark Ruffalo is the tenacious and quirky Michael Rezendes, Rachel McAdams is Sacha Pfeiffer, and Brian d’Arcy James is Matt Carroll. Keaton will get the most attention but his performance is just as even-keeled as the rest, putting that Boston accent of his to good use. It’s also good to see Ruffalo in a role that requires him to do more than turn green and smash things. The cast as a whole is brilliant and help to flesh out what are an overwhelming number of attorneys, priests, and journalists engulfed in a scandal that challenges those of faith and those without. Stanley Tucci is brilliant as the eccentric attorney who has been fighting a losing battle with the church for too long, while Billy Crudup makes the most of limited screen time as a lawyer whose allegiances we’re not totally keen on.
While this is a film that celebrates the nuts and bolts of developing a story and the grind work that goes into it, there’s still room for these characters to be put through the emotional wringer. There’s the guilt in going after the church in a place like Boston where one’s faith is all some people have to cling to. But at the same time, that faith has been twisted and soiled by the actions of these priests, in many cases with help from the community who work to keep it all secret. And the Globe has its own questionable past to contend with, as well.
Just don’t go into “Spotlight” expecting to see McAdams’ character involved in some workplace fling, or for Keaton’s character to be revealed as Batman or something. We learn little about the home life of these people, and yet we are as invested in their quest for truth as they are determined in finding it. That said; some may find the lack of back story makes it tough to connect with any of the characters, who are rightfully being presented as paragons of a free press. Easily the best and most significant newsroom film since “All the President’s Men”, “Spotlight” will renew your appreciation for the dwindling few journalists who continue to take on the toughest causes.