AM At The Movies: ‘Spotlight’

Above: The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese

Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams
Directed by: Tom McCarthy
Run Time: 128 minutes

Spotlight is one of the best films of the year, combining outstanding performances with a powerful story pulled from the headlines.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation by the Boston Globe’s investigative journalism unit exposing years of sexual abuse and the subsequent cover up by the city’s archdiocese, this movie hits hard and should earn scores of nominations come Oscar season. This is an old school flick that relies on nothing but the work of the actors and McCarthy’s efforts behind the camera.

In an age where even serious pictures have action beats or over-the-top characters that feel out of place, Spotlight keeps it simple, sticking to the efforts of the four-person team that broke this story, the editors that helped guide them through the investigation and the church, who covered up years of child abuse, moving offending priests around and silencing victims with off-the-books settlements.

This newspaper procedural doesn’t rush anything – the story moves along at the pace of an investigation of this nature, moving methodically through every step and McCarthy does an excellent job of allowing the film to flourish in that manner. He doesn’t skip the slog of digging through a story, the annoyance of closed doors and dead ends or the “This is good, but you can still do better” moments that editors hit journalists with all the time.

And his cast hits the marks at every turn.

Michael Keaton continues his powerful return as the leader of the Spotlight team, Robby Robinson, while Mark Ruffalo hits the mark as the unrelenting Mike Rezendes, mixing a little bit of a hunch and a twitch to his performance that constantly makes him seem uneasy, which works especially well given the subject the team is investigating.

Rachel McAdams delivers her best work in some time, Brian D’Arcy James shines as Matt Carroll, the fourth member of the team who has to juggle having one of the predatory priests living in his neighborhood with not leaking the story before it was ready to run. Mad Men alum John Slattery is on-point as Globe editor Ben Bradlee Jr. and Live Schreiber takes his role as incoming editor-in-chief Marty Baron and turns it into the soul of the film; he’s the outsider pushing for the bigger story and refusing to relent, which filters down to the Keaton and his crew.

There is no “gotcha” moment as the story unfolds and the depth of the cover-up is discovered and McCarthy does a great job of staying away from kind of comeuppance shots that you usually find in films like this and Spotlight is stronger for it. The power of the church and its influence on the people in the community is evident from the outset and never fades, and it makes what took place all the more unsettling.

Perhaps the best thing about this film is that there aren’t really any heroes or villains here; everyone at the paper made some mistakes on the road to reporting this story and even those that helped cover-up the misdeeds felt like they were either just doing their job or what was best for the church and the community that relies upon it so heavily.

It’s a true story that plays like real life, focusing on the shades of grey and the unsettling nature of this scandal rather than celebrating the reporters or providing a happy ending.

And ultimately, it’s what makes Spotlight a contender for Best Picture and a must-see movie.

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