Based on a true story, Spotlight depicts the work of four journalists from The Boston Globe (and winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism in 2003) who, in 2001, investigated on the cases of sexual abuses in the Boston archdiocese that shook the Catholic Church and shocked the entire world in 2002.
After a short prologue set in 1976 in a Boston police station, the movie flashes forward to 2001, when Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) begins as the new editor-in-chief of The Boston Globe. Just after his arrival, he says to Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) that he wants him and his “Spotlight” team (specialized in long-terms investigations) to inquire on the suspicions of sexual abuses on children by the priest John Geoghan, and the fact that Cardinal Bernard Law knew about it and did nothing to stop him. The investigation begins, and we find ourselves directly thrown into the inquiry. As the movie unfolds, the journalists reveal that for decades, the most prominent persons of Boston (whether they were clergymen or politicians) had been protected by the Catholic Church, and therefore bring bigger revelations to the entire world.
For the fifth full-length film of his career, Tom McCarthy deals with a recurrent genre in American cinema, the one of “newspaper films,” and does it with style and a soberness that turns out to be well-suited for such a sensitive topic. Indeed, though the story quickly becomes hard to hear and watch – let’s not forget we are talking here about a true story of cases of child sexual abuse at the beginning of the 2000’s – the director instantly manages to hold the attention. He decides to keep his movie simple in many ways, with the angles used to shoot the movie, but also with the characters that are “ordinary”: everything seems to be done in order to make us focus on the story, which is dramatic enough in itself. McCarthy’s style allows us to identify with the journalists and make us feel like we are part of the “Spotlight” team ourselves, wanting to get answers and make the investigation progress. We start asking ourselves questions and making suppositions on the real criminals and victims of the case. Once again, the soberness in the way of shooting the movie and the almost systematic use of shots/reverse shots during the interviews make us feel close to the different characters, whether they are victims, attorneys or journalists, as if we were in the room with them.
This feeling of proximity is made possible thanks to the four actors impersonating the journalists of the “Spotlight” team. With the amazing performances of Mark Ruffalo (Michael Rezendes) and Rachel McAdams (Sacha Pfeiffer) – both Academy Award nominees for Best Actor and Best Actress in a Supporting Role – we identify with them quite rapidly. On the one hand, Ruffalo, who gives here one of the best performances of his entire career, is perfect in the role of the journalist/investigator who never stops until he gets the answers he was looking for in the first place. On the other hand, McAdams also shines in her role, playing not only a good journalist, but also the only woman of the group. She appears as soft and kind, and therefore becomes the person to whom people, especially witnesses and victims, are more willing to talk to thanks to her capacity to listen to others while making them feel comfortable.
Michael Keaton, in his role of leader of the “Spotlight” team, is a bit more sober and moderate in his performance. But first and foremost, the whole cast manages to show restraint in their characters, by only focusing on the fact that they are just doing their work as journalists, which makes the movie look more realistic. The light and setting reinforce this seriousness, especially with the dull colors of the office of the Boston Globe (grey and beige). This soberness may bore some people, but the movie isn’t meant to be entertaining. If there is one thing to criticize in Spotlight, it is the music. Though the chosen passages are beautiful to the ear, the overuse of the piano music, in almost every scene, tends to overdramatize the movie, even though the story doesn’t need this.
With Spotlight – nominated for six Academy Awards and winner of two (Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay) – Tom McCarthy managed to direct a good “newspaper film”. The challenge was successfully met: in terms of adaptation and respect of the original story, of the actors’ performances, but also because he manages to make us feel uncomfortable after discovering all the abominable and disgusting revelations made by the four journalists. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, go watch it now, you will not be disappointed.
Spotlight (2015), directed by Tom McCarthy; produced by Blye Pagon Faust, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin and Michael Sugar; written by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer; music by Howard Shore; edited by Tom McArdle; distributed by Open Road Films. Running time: 129 minutes.
- Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes
- Michael Keaton as Walter “Robby” Robinson
- Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer
- Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron
- John Slattery as Ben Bradlee, Jr.
- Brian d’Arcy James as Matt Carroll
- Stanley Tucci as Mitchell Garabedian