Directed by: Tom McCarthy.
Written by: Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer.
Starring: Mark Ruffalo (Mike Rezendes), Michael Keaton (Walter 'Robby' Robinson), Rachel McAdams (Sacha Pfeiffer), Liev Schreiber (Marty Baron), John Slattery (Ben Bradlee Jr.), Brian d'Arcy James (Matt Carroll), Stanley Tucci (Mitchell Garabedian), Elena Wohl (Barbara), Gene Amoroso (Steve Kurkjian), Doug Murray (Peter Canellos), Sharon McFarlane (Helen Donovan), Jamey Sheridan (Jim Sullivan), Neal Huff (Phil Saviano), Billy Crudup (Eric Macleish), Robert B. Kennedy (Court Clerk Mark), Duane Murray (Hansi Kalkofen), Brian Chamberlain (Paul Burke), Michael Cyril Creighton (Joe Crowley), Paul Guilfoyle (Pete Conley), Michael Countryman (Richard Gilman), Len Cariou (Cardinal Law).
The media takes a lot of criticism – and most of it is deserved. We live in a world of sound bites and outrage culture – where everyone gets really pissed about things one day, and have completely forgotten about it the next. Many don’t seem to have the attention spans to pay attention to a story long term. It wasn’t always like this – in fact it wasn’t even that long ago where it wasn’t this bad. Spotlight is a movie that takes place in 2001/2002 and yet it feels like a period piece for a time that has already passed. It is about newspaper reporters spending months investigating a story, who won’t go to press until its right. It’s hard to believe that even now, the story would play out the same way.
The film is about the Spotlight team of the Boston Globe. It’s a small, four person unit run by Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton) and staffed by Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). The Globe gets a new editor – Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) – and people are immediately suspicious. He’s not from Boston – and he’s Jewish, not like the rest of them who are Catholic (lapsed or not). There is a recent story about a pedophile priest that Baron thinks the Spotlight team should dig into – there are some people making some claims that this goes well beyond the one “bad apple” that everyone wants to think it was – and it has been going on for years. We know, now, of course just how widespread the problem was – no one really suspected back in 2001 though.
Spotlight has earned some comparisons to a movie like All the President’s Men – and it deserves them. Both movies are about reporters who simply keep digging and digging until they get the story. Co-written and directed by Tom McCarthy, Spotlight is in many ways a straight forward film, and McCarthy directs in a low-key style. But the film is full of specific, small details that let us know who these people are, and why they are pushing so hard. The film is basically about these people, talking in a series of rooms, and gradually unearthing the story – and if that doesn’t sound terribly exciting, the way it is done here, is. In fact, the movie is so effective in its low-key scenes that it’s the few moments where there is something more dramatic – yelling for example – that feels off in the movie. This isn’t a movie about grandstanding or speechmaking.
The film does have what maybe the ensemble cast of the year however- each cast member doing a great job, because none of them seem to be showing off. The news team really does feel like a team, who know each other. After Black Mass – where Depp was great, but most of the rest of the cast tried way too hard to adopt the stereotypical, exaggerated Boston accent, it was a relief in Spotlight that no one seems to be trying that hard to get it – they speak normally, with just enough of an accent so it’s apparent, but so much that it becomes a distraction. Keaton is probably the best one in the movie at this – he has the scenes where he has really talk to people who don’t want to talk to him, and do so in a way that gets answers, and doesn’t piss them off – and he does that brilliantly. Ruffalo probably gets the most notes to play – and it’s a fine performance, if slightly overdone at a few moments. They are the two that standout – but everyone in the cast has their moment – it’s just here, those moments are quieter.
Spotlight is a movie that sneaks up on you a little bit. You walk in, thinking you already know the story – there has not been a shortage of movies about the Catholic sex abuse scandal in the past decade – but the film still gets under your skin. It’s in the way the actors playing the victims – often in just one scene – show their emotional scars. It’s in the infuriating way those who knew, and did nothing, act smug and self-sure (Len Cariou in particular is wonderful as Cardinal Law). In it’s the tiny accumulation of details throughout the film. Like a great news story, it builds as it goes along, and is airtight. We need more film like Spotlight – and more journalists like the ones in the movie.