Undoubtedly one of 2015’s best, Spotlight is an acting showcase that reflects on the not that long ago good old days when journalists sought to reveal truth and weren’t obsessed with clicks.
Aided by one of the year’s superior ensembles, actor turned Director Tom McCarthy crafts a mesmerizing, no-frills film based on The Boston Globe breaking the story of a widespread child molestation cover up within the Catholic Archdiocese.
With dwindling readership, new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) has the Globe’s Spotlight desk — a four-person unit that devotes months on long-term feature, investigative pieces — to look into allegations of sexual misconduct by local Catholic priests.
Team Spotlight editor/reporter Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton, Birdman [Blu-ray]) and his three writers, Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) aren’t used to getting assignments. Robby typically tells Globe assistant managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery) their next project and they’re left alone until it’s set for publication.
Baron’s disregard for the Boston status quo, particularly the importance of the Catholic church, is also off-putting to the team. But despite their misgivings, after meeting with lawyers (equally fantastic Stanley Tucci and Billy Cudrup) and molestation victims, the Spotlight team is fully on board with bringing these crimes to light.
McCarthy and co-screenwriter Josh Singer don’t bother trying to force unnecessary drama or exaggerated sequences to get some award recognition. McCarthy’s instincts are dead-on anyway. The story doesn’t need an iota of sensationalizing as the unyielding investigation is every bit as compelling and captivating as a high speed shootout in a good action movie.
Having spent nearly 20 years working in a newsroom, a number of scenes had that legitimate, unsanitized look at investigative reporting. From the numerous roadblocks that would shut down all but the most determined, the crappy hours to those uncomfortable conflict of interest moments, McCarthy and Singer capture the life of a reporter.
It’s rarely a glamorous life, but one where the meticulous and methodical unraveling of random tidbits leads to that missing link to bring the entire story together. The beauty of Spotlight then is how it makes the often laborious reporting process seem so intricately compelling.
Even as an ensemble piece, Keaton and Ruffalo can’t help but stand out and it wouldn’t be a shock to see either or both nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Not to be overlooked, McAdams (Southpaw (Blu-ray + DVD + Ultraviolet) seems a lock for a Best Supporting Actress nomination.
Ruffalo always has a knack for getting lost in a role, but as the persistent lead reporter, Ruffalo portrays Rezendes as a dog who’s not about to let go of the bone now that he’s got a hold of it. It’s hard to narrow it down to one signature moment, but Ruffalo delivers big time as Rezendes pleads with his editors to release the story and expose the priests and the local diocese.
As the “made man” Robby, Keaton exudes the charm and genial nature of a man who’s comfortable with his lot in life until he learns the extent of the system’s corruption forcing him to confront longtime friends and associates.
It’s a complex performance and the most demanding of the cast, but Keaton is outstanding. Birdman made for a nice comeback story for Keaton, but with this performance, he assures he won’t so easily fade away to obscurity anytime soon.
There’s some flashier films with bigger moments, action sequences and heartfelt, emotional scenes, but Spotlight doesn’t need any fancy bells and whistles. It’s exceptional thanks to an outstanding cast, confident direction and terrific script.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Photo credit: Kerry Hayes / Distributor: Open Road Films