This is journalism – tenacious, thorough, uncompromising, brave. All too often we see bias and/or reluctance in our news, but true journalistic integrity is not being manipulated by power or profit or readership levels. True journalism is not afraid to speak the truth, not just when but especially when the truth is unpleasant. In ‘Spotlight’, we see all of that come into focus. (Pun intended.)
Directed by Tom McCarthy and written by McCarthy and Josh Singer, ‘Spotlight’ is a biographical investigative drama that follows The Boston Globe’s famed four-man team of deep-probing journalists. Led by Spotlight editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), reporters Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) and Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) look into a few allegations of child molestation by Bostonian Catholic priests. But what started as seemingly isolated incidents became something far more scandalous, systemic and perverse.
Keaton, Ruffalo, McAdams, d’Arcy James, along with Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, and Billy Crudup – multiple award winners and nominees, all masters of their craft – with an insane pool of talent like that you’d think that the movie would be a string of Oscar award winning scenes, but it wasn’t. Other than one office outburst, the actors were all relatively subdued. The characters weren’t written or acted to be superheroes or overzealous warriors of justice; they weren’t glorified; they were reporters, looking for a good story, caring about the truth and about the people. In short, they were just doing their jobs.
That’s not to say it was lazy acting, on the contrary, it was in their restraint that the characters were made more credible. It wasn’t so much a “show” as it was a re-enactment. Every actor displayed noticeably nuanced performances though. From Mark Ruffalo’s peculiar accent and body language, to Liev Schreiber’s distinctly silent, almost deadpan, intelligence, and even small things like the way Keaton uses 2 fingers to type on his keyboard, one could only guess that these were all inspired by their real-life counterparts and this realistic and refreshing understated display was one of the things I loved about the movie. All of the actors were committed to bringing an authenticity in their characters that honor the real Spotlight journalists they portray.
While trying not to stand out individually, as an ensemble, the cast really left a mark. The chemistry between the actors is palpable from the minute they all sit down in their bullpen. You immediately get the sense that Spotlight is a well-oiled machine – each member having a specific skill-set and task but dependent on each other and unified in their goal. When they go after a story, Spotlight turns into this note-taking, people-probing, Windows 2000-writing, beast of a unit…and it is just amazing to watch them work!
And seeing this particular case unfold and the conspiracy go deeper and deeper into the religious organization’s hierarchy was the real meat of the film. Decades of sexual cruelty instigated by one of the oldest and most respected institutions in history, and government and legal officials helping covering it all up – it was an intriguing story to say the very least and one that was very well-told at that. McCarthy and Singer both showed great mastery in the investigation’s details and its history. ‘Spotlight’ clearly portrayed the team’s train of thought and how they went about their investigation, often checking and double checking facts, corroborating each account with another source, building and building and building their case until there’s no room left for doubt. All the necessary details were there, as well as how they all ultimately fit together.
It was a complex investigation, but one that was presented in a very comprehensive manner. Spotlight’s examination into the Roman Catholic institution proved difficult. Aside from wrestling with the idea that this story may potentially receive a significant amount of backlash from both readers and church leaders, they had to deal with a lot of legal red tape, initially unreliable sources, and other difficult and reluctant personalities. But all these threads were organized very linearly, and each stage was paced just right for the conflicts and solutions to sink in. There was a sense of urgency, no doubt, but there was also a graceful cadence in how the story unfolded.
But it wasn’t all about chasing the story for these reporters. McCarthy also injects his film with an ample about of personal drama. ‘Coz reporters are humans too! We see how each member of the Spotlight team struggled, and eventually coped, with their individual tainted spiritual views. Both in-story characters and the audience were made to realize that there was suddenly this new, frightening side to a religion we all perceived as the pinnacle of benevolence. ‘Spotlight’ may have been a straight-forward procedural formula, but it never lost sight of the gravity, and the repercussions, of this crucial issue.
But personal troubles or no, Spotlight never let their personal issues and views get in the way of the truth they serve, making the characters and their real-life counterparts (and the film as a whole) even more admirable. This film is simultaneously reverence to The Boston Globe and the Spotlight team in their role in uncovering a sinister longstanding system of abuse as well as acting as an unsparing guide to professional and moral journalism. Grandstanding and prejudiced news outlets could learn a thing or two.
‘Spotlight’ was a meticulously researched, well-written, wonderfully acted, smoothly paced, inspired and riveting drama. It’s sure to shock those unfamiliar with the 2001 scandal, but will definitely entertain regardless. There was plenty of delicious intrigue and thrilling investigative exercise to go around. The direction, writing and performances worked impeccably in sync with each other and the result was undoubtedly one of the best and most satisfying fact-based movies I’ve ever seen.