SYNOPSIS: In 2001, a team of journalists from the Boston Globe are tasked with uncovering stories of child molestation within the Catholic Church. Over the course of a year, reporters Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton), Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) and Sasha Pfieffer (Rachel McAdams) learn shocking information from victims of the past thirty years about the abuse they received from their priests. But with the Cardinal threatening to sue the Globe over their investigation, the team become more determined to print the story that will bring the Catholic Church down to its knees.
The fascinating story of investigative journalism is tackled audaciously by writer/director Tom McCarthy in the multi Oscar-nominated media drama Spotlight.
As All the President’s Men (1976) achieved with its focus on the Watergate scandal, Spotlight confronts another deep issue in American news via the Catholic Church’s shocking involvement with child abuse in Boston.
With the help of an effortless ensemble cast, McCarthy and fellow screenwriter Josh Singer compile a well-crafted script with authentic characters and scenes that avoid cinematic cliches like violent showdowns or romantic subplots. If you’re not one for lengthy speeches and slow paced scenes, then Spotlight isn’t for you.
The film also doesn’t move out of its way to depict Boston as a cruel, vile place and instead reflects on the setting in conventional ways e.g. the working class streets and watching the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
Instead, the players involved are all committed to doing their job in trying to crucify the Cardinal over their failure to prevent outrageous acts being committed by their representatives. This isn’t just happening in America, it’s occurred across the world which is explained crucially in the film’s closing credits.
The opening scene of a child and his parents being smoothed over by a priest’s lawyer confirms how traumatising it was for so many youngsters and this all comes to a head later on when Sacha and Michael interview abuse survivors who struggle to recount what they went through.
The culprit’s point of view also brings shocking results in one jaw-dropping moment where Sacha interrogates a priest at his home to which he then comfortably admits that he did mistreat children because of his own horrific past.
These emotions (as well as those from the journalists’ perspectives) are captured tenaciously by editor Tom McArdle while McCarthy does well to make some clever artistic choices such as one shot of one of our protagonists standing on the balcony of a house with a church appearing in the background.
On the acting side, Spotlight’s exceptional ensemble produce immaculate performances that have deservedly helped the film stand out well with critics so far.
Away from playing the Hulk in the Marvel films, Mark Ruffalo continues to strengthen his credentials with an effective (and Oscar-nominated) turn as the determined journalist Michael Rezendes whose frustrations with trying to get the story done results in an explosive scene with his colleagues.
Michael Keaton follows up his comeback role in Birdman with another strong performance as chief reporter Walter Robinson who battles hard to find key information with the help of his contacts. Having played a similar investigative role in the second series of HBO’s True Detective, Rachel McAdams lends sensitivity and warmth with her turn as Sacha Pfieffer.
There’s also effective contributions from Ray Donovan’s Liev Schreiber as the Globe’s conflicted new Editor while character actor Stanley Tucci makes good use of his limited screentime as lawyer Mitchell Garabedian.
Rich and compelling in terms of its shocking subject matter, Spotlight certifies itself as one of the best films of the year already and will be hoping to cement that appreciation with Oscar glory next month.