Easily one of the best dramas of the year, Spotlight is a riveting two hours that leaves you salivating for so much more. It would have been no problem for me to sit for another hour and watch the fireworks of this excellent investigative film. Chronicling the development and breaking of a massive story in Boston just around the time of 9/11, the film boasts a winning combination of a great cast, brilliant script and flawless direction. You better bet that this film lands near the top of a lot of top ten list, as well as awards accolades.
For director Tom McCarthy this is a fine return to form. Starting his career with two critically acclaimed films (The Station Agent and The Visitor), the later film earned lead Richard Jenkins a Best Actor Oscar nomination. His next film Win Win wouldn’t get as much favor but he then decided to collaborate with Adam Sandler on The Cobbler, a film that was woefully misguided and completely laughable. The movie seemed like an odd misstep from a director we’d expected some quality from. Consider Spotlight to be a glowing apology.
The film follows the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe led by Walter “Robby” Robertson (Michael Keaton) with writer Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) and investigative journalists Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). Together with editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery), the column is a tight lipped section of the paper that delivers groundbreaking and thoroughly investigated stories developed usually over a year.
When the senior editor of the Globe retires, new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) arrives from Florida to take over the revered paper -one of the top reads in the city even as the focus shifts to online news outlets. Taking an interest in keeping Spotlight going, Baron gives Robertson a doozy of a project. An exposé on the sexual abuse accusations within the Catholic church about priests abusing young boys and girls and the cover ups of these scandals.
As the team gets further and further into their inquiry, the roadblocks get thrown up, bureaucracy is used to thwart them at every turn and personal friendships are tested as the sad reality is shown in an unflattering light. Boston, Massachusetts is a very church worshipping and fearing city and it’s going to take a lot of fight to bring these horrible truths to a public light. There’s more at play in this film than a Catholic guilt complex but more a human guilt. What is ignoring a foreseen problem and what is just doing your job and damn the consequences? When does a moral obligation take precedence?
This film is nothing short of one of the most compelling films of the year. The story is told with such a command yet it doesn’t come off as grandiose or operatic at all. It’s a straight forward and real feeling film driven by the dedication of the entire cast; not just any one single cast member. Some actors, such as Rachel McAdams, show a depth in character that I hadn’t really seen before and Liev Schreiber brings the usual and expected epitome of cool but in a different and simple way as this new editor who hit a very different town than he was used to and shook it up in ways no one could have believed.
If you followed this story in the news, the major part being circa 2002, you already know a lot about how this whole thing played out. The aftermath of the story is only just touched on in the end but it leaves you with a satisfaction of seeing even a small form of justice, even if it’s just the exposure of a deplorable evil that had been in the shadows for far too long. Tom McCarthy also brings a journalist story that is reminiscent of All The President’s Men, in my opinion the greatest journalist movie of all time. Spotlight is very worthy of being in this conversation.
If I were to leave you with one thing at the end of this review I would say that Spotlight is probably the most important film this year. In a reality where a lot of the media feels muzzled, shackled and incredibly biased, this film shows the integrity of a team that didn’t blink in the face of one of the biggest adversaries of all: organized religion. At the end of it all, when all that was swept under the rug is revealed, there is an inspirational feeling. Finally there can be some healing and possible justice and some of the pain can finally be dealt with. It’s a powerful message that I know will not be lost on the audience.
This is definitely a water cooler talk movie that you will want to get on board with fast and a definite top seed for winning that Best Picture golden guy come the end of February. Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer’s script gives you a satisfying meaty selection that will have you buzzing well after the credits roll. Get out and go see this movie. I give Spotlight a five out of five.