Media can entertain, inform and at times, bring about change and shed light on today’s problems. Churches can unite, heal and do good work in their communities. In some cases, Churches are not just a part of their communities, they are the community. This was the case in the early 2000s in Boston, where the Catholic Church is just known as “The Church” and the church hierarchy in that city are men of immense influence and power. A group of Boston reporters had the courage and the investigative powers to bring to light that the church not only knew about Priests molesting kids in their parishes; they covered it up. This is the subject of an incredible film by Tom McCarthy, who brings us a movie every bit as good and powerful as another investigatory newspaper film, “All the President’s Men.”
The investigative team at the Boston Globe is called “Spotlight.” The team, led by editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), whose members, Michael Resends (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matty Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), do one in-depth story at a time. They work on uncovering stories that can be researched for months or even years before they are published. The Spotlight team is a little on edge as a new managing editor; Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) is coming on board. Marty is an outsider, who unlike most of the Globe staff, is not from Boston or a member of the Catholic Church. At a dinner meeting to get to know more about his reporters, Baron asks Robby about a recent story on the Boston archdiocese’s carelessly handling various abuse cases involving the clergy. This gets Robby thinking that there may be more to the story than just a few isolated cases of a priest going too far with a child. The Spotlight team is about to embark on a journey that will have earth shattering effects around the world and could bring down some very powerful people.
This is one of the best films of the year and without a doubt the foremost ensemble cast of any film this year. Directed by Tom McCarthy, who co-wrote the script with Josh Singer, “Spotlight” is one of those films that is so well done, you have a hard time pointing out any missteps or flaws in the movie. The script flows along at the right pace, creating tension as it highlights the inner workings of a team of talented investigators who smell a story; they just don’t know how big it will get. Reminiscent of the great investigative newspaper films of the past, like “Call Northside 777” or “Absence of Malice,” “Spotlight” is a taut film full of twists and turns, some that will even surprise viewers that are overly familiar with the story.
The film is filled with interesting, fully fleshed-out characters that make the film genuinely rich and intensive. You have the outsider in managing editor Baron, played by a superbly restrained Liev Schreiber. Schreiber delivers lines at such a deliberate pace; you almost think his character is measuring every single word for its meaning and power. Managing deputy editor Ben Bradlee Jr., played by John Slattery, is used as a sounding board by the Spotlight team, often becoming the voice of reason. Michael Resends, played by Mark Ruffalo, is a hard-charging pit bull of a reporter who has given up his private life (he lives estranged from his wife in a small, dirty apartment) for the love of the story. Buffalo gives what I consider is an Academy Award performance. It’s a role that is made for Ruffalo, and he puts his heart and soul into it; his determination etched on his face and his mannerisms. Sacha Pfeiffer, played by Rachel McAdams giving a surprisingly complex performance, is the good Catholic girl who goes to mass with her mother every day until the toll of what she learns about her church is almost too much to bear. McAdams gives a multilayer performance that shows she is much more than just a tool for Nicholas Sparks’s material. Matty Carroll, played by Brian d’Arcy James, is the Boston native family man, who comes to realize that his beloved neighborhood contains the very evil that he is investigating. James has a fantastic scene as he races through his neighborhood on foot, looking for a house that has a known child molesting priest. The head and heart of the Spotlight team, editor Robby Robertson, played by Michael Keaton, is a level-headed type of life-long newspaper man who knows that the team must dig deeper, lining up all the pieces before they publish anything. Keaton plays Robertson as a guy who knows all the angles and how to work the system. Keaton brilliantly plays Robertson, giving him an edge that we know he will fight for his staff and his story.
The sets are incredible, perfectly spanning between the cramped spaces of the newsroom to the contrast of the lavish Cardinal’s residence. The film uses Boston as almost the main character of the movie. It’s tough, communal town where what neighborhood you grew up in determined your fate in life. It’s a proud city that won’t give up its secrets without a fight.
McCarthy brings us a picture that shows the gritty underbelly of a city and a set of reporters who feel that if they uncover and report a story, it will change a city for the better. “Spotlight” is the type of film that even the smallest scene has a lasting impact that makes the story richer as the film progresses. Buoyed by an incredible ensemble cast and a script that flows from scene to scene, “Spotlight” is sure to challenge for the best film of the year and, just like the reporters in the movie; it doesn’t let up until the full story is told. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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