There seems to be a lot of movies the last couple of years that take a hard look at investigative journalism. From last year’s Kill the Messenger to this year’s Truth, the film community finds these topics about the state of our press worth telling. And not only are they important to truly take a good, hard look at the news media, but these films don’t just ask us to look, but to question–as all good investigative journalists do. Spotlight, directed and co-written by Tom McCarthy, who has thankfully graduated from directing films like The Cobbler, takes you behind the scenes to the team at the Boston Globe who broke the story about the child molestation scandals covered up by the Catholic church.
Aptly named Spotlight, the section of the Boston Globe that, well, spotlights various stories by thoroughly researching them before being written about and presented to the general public. The head of this very important department is Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) who began investigating this story in early 2001, along with his team: Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). For months–with the push of newcomer editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), who is now with the Washington Post, and editor Ben Bradlee, Jr. (John Slattery)–the team researched and investigated, speaking to victims, lawyers, including Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), and priests. And on January 6, 2002, the story published, shocking everyone in the local Boston community, and the world.
Spotlight is riveting and takes you through the significant process of collecting information, making sure its accurate, and questioning. In essence, it feels a lot like you’re right at work with the Boston Globe team every step of the way. It isn’t particularly melodramatic and shies away from the controversy of trying to make a statement about the Catholic church. It’s far better than making dramatic speeches just for show and instead, like the articles published, presents you with irrevocable facts that are meant to shock but also allow you to question what you thought you knew. The film works well in that it showcases what investigative journalism is all about and centralizes the central story around that, the characters serving as vehicles for its powerful repercussions.
Secluded from the rest of the news team in the small basement office of the Globe, every member of the cast brings their A-game and they never let up. Their interactions are never dull, never static. Their emotions are written all over their faces and it’s especially nice to see Rachel McAdams in a meatier role. Their characters question every victim who’s willing to come forward and as the printing presses prepare what was a shocking story, the tension builds and the characters never waver in their passion for the truth. It’s fantastic to see and Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, and the rest of the cast are on point in every sense of the word.
Tom McCarthy’s film enthralls and delivers a cleverly-executed film that could have very easily become a cliché. McCarthy and his team have a strong film on their hands, and one that gets the nature of journalism, letting the nature and subject matter speak for itself and to the importance of this kind of journalism. Spotlight is well-written, well-acted and definitely one of the better films of 2015.