Movie Review: ‘Spotlight’
Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James
Plot: A special investigative division of The Boston Globe uncovers a child molestation scandal within the Catholic Church.
In 2001, The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team, one of the oldest operating investigative journalism teams in the United States, was tasked with following up on cases of child molestation perpetrated by local priests. They were shocked to find that not only were there many more incidents than they thought possible, but the Church was actively hiding and relocating priests. As a resident of the Greater Boston area who was raised in a Catholic family, this was kind of a big deal for me. This is the ultimate betrayal to be led to treat an organization as the moral center of the universe only to find out that they were aiding and abetting known child molesters. This is a delicate issue. Thankfully, director Tom McCarthy lives up to the task of bringing the story to the screen tastefully and respectfully.
McCarthy might be more recognizable as the awful reporter from the final season of “The Wire,” but he has also been making a name for himself as a director in the indie arthouse corners for a few years. With his past features, like the charming Peter Dinkalge vehicle The Station Agent or the sports dramedy Win Win, McCarthy has been combining understated performances with lived-in characters that shape movies that are able to compel while seemingly saying nothing at all. Those characteristics are what help make this story come to life. It allows it to have a dramatic punch without feeling exploitative and establishes a sense of unspoken community with little to no exposition bogging down the pacing.
The ensemble is a great tool in this sense. The reporters are all inherently reserved people, but the likes of Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James pepper them with the kind of nuanced behaviors that make them feel like real people and not like . After all, these are real people they are playing. The only member of the team who has a usual movie outburst is Mark Ruffalo, and he kills it using anger to accentuate the universal feeling we should all be experiencing. I usually hate those heart-on-sleeve rants. They are just too on the nose, but Ruffalo makes it impact with all his strength. The guy next to me in the movie theater started sobbing, and I was so damn close to joining him.
The movie is also surprisingly exciting. What we see is mostly just legwork and paper chasing, but it flies around like a roller coaster. It must be the most exciting journalism movie since All the President’s Men. It probably helps that the stakes are realistically high (the well-being of kids), and the restrained raw emotion of the cast compounds that feeling. I think it is just nice that in a time when Hollywood gets so many criticisms for leaning too much on over-the-top blockbuster action movies that there are filmmakers that can earn excitement from a war of words.