Newsroom drama at its bestMovie Review, Section 4A Thursday, November 12th, 2015
It is now taken for granted that the Catholic Church’s priests sexually abused thousands, if not tens of thousands, of children over the last 50 years and that the Church hierarchy covered it up, quietly settling lawsuits, moving abusers from parish to parish, and doing very little to stop the abuse from happening or occurring again. The scandal that began it all occurred in Boston in 2002, when intrepid reporters in the Spotlight investigative unit of The Boston Globe uncovered the Boston church’s extensive role in covering up abuses by numerous priests in the diocese. The Boston scandal led Boston Cardinal Bernard Law to resign, $100 million in settlements and a Pulitzer Prize for The Globe and its Spotlight reporters. Tom McCarthy’s nearly perfect film depicting the reporters’ investigation is easily the best film about journalism since 1976’s classic Watergate thriller All the President’s Men, and it will feature heavily on the awards circuit this year.
The film begins with the arrival of a new editor at The Globe in 2001. Marty Baron (a perfectly subdued Liev Schreiber) encourages the Spotlight team to dig into the case of a priest recently convicted of sexual abuse. There is some resistance by other editors, who think it’s already been reported enough, that there’s nothing there, but Spotlight’s editor Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton) thinks Baron is right – there’s more to this than a few isolated cases. Robinson sticks his reporters Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) on the story, and they start digging into both the publicized cases and the ones settled out of court. They meet with victims, sleazy lawyers and not-so-sleazy lawyers. Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) is the latter, and through his interactions with the Columbo-esque Rezendes, we learn that the problem isn’t just bad eggs and the Church hiding them in the back of the henhouse. It’s the cloistered culture of Catholic Boston.
The publicists are referring to Spotlight as a thriller, which seems to be an exaggeration. Yes, the excitement is heightened artificially by characters unnecessarily running or speeding, but Spotlight doesn’t have anything resembling the tension of All the President’s Men, in which Woodward and Bernstein had good reason to fear for their lives. The film is suspenseful both because of Tom McCarthy’s taut and trick-less direction and his and Josh Singer’s efficient screenplay, which seamlessly merges a complicated mystery with an indictment of a culture of secrecy, silence and deference to power. Most of the film’s major characters are occasional or lapsed Catholics, and their personal angst over what their faith has done shows the toll this kind of reporting can take. The film is as much about how these reporters got the story as it is about how the story got them.
McCarthy’s ensemble is the best on film this year. Keaton’s Robinson is the film’s linchpin, acting as the liaison between Baron and skeptical deputy editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (the always-great John Slattery) with his reporters while also pushing major sources to come forward. Keaton is so believable, so heroic as the smart and deeply ethical Robinson, he makes Ruffalo’s fantastic Rezendes seem overly mannered. McAdams is good in the least flashy role, while Tucci keeps up his streak of stealing scenes, this time as a wise and frustrated Armenian-American perplexed by Boston.
Directed by Tom McCarthy
Written by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer
Starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams
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