Spotlight is one of the great investigative journalism films; compelling, flawlessly acted, and successful in its invitation to join in the hunt for the truth. It’s enough to make you think twice about the easy, convenient dismissal of the importance of newspapers in our digital times. Even with an ending known to most viewers, director/co-writer Tom McCarthy has crafted an immensely grounded and grueling look at newspaper dynamics and the persistence needed on behalf of their journalists.
The story concerns the Boston Globe’s Spotlight unit, the oldest continuously operating investigative team in the United States. Set in 2001, the paper has just experienced a change in leadership, with Marty Baron (Schreiber) looking to boost readership through changes in practices and content. That’s questionable news for the Spotlight team, led by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Keaton). He’s worried the group, whose stories can take over a year to fully develop, will be downsized or phased out. The concerns cease when they uncover evidence of widespread pedophilia and misconduct among priests in the local Catholic churches. As the investigation gains steam and expands geographically, members of the organization face moral dilemmas and plenty of heat from the Archdiocese.
McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer’s script is remarkably focused considering the number of people involved in the scandal. He manages to concisely move the story forward and unspool the web without ever playing down to the audience. It takes skill to make meetings and interviews impactful. By slowly raising the stakes and fleshing out the likable ensemble cast, McCarthy and his team hit all the right notes without crossing into melodrama and grandiose speeches.
Spotlight boasts one of the best ensemble casts of this or any other year. Highlighted by an all-business Michael Keaton and a jittery Mark Ruffalo, everyone involved emanates professionalism and careful contemplation about the ramifications of their work. In many ways Spotlight feels like a love letter to the lost art of journalistic patience in this era of blogs, Twitter, and the twenty-four hour news cycle. It balances that love with a sensationally effective unmasking of the horrors at the center of its scandal. It’s brilliant filmmaking, and one of the 2015’s very best pictures.
Studio: Open Road Films
Length: 128 Minutes
Rating: R for some language including sexual references.
Theatrical Release: November 6, 2015 (Limited)
Directed by: Tom McCarthy
Written by: Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery