Sporting an A-list cast, and with Tom McCarthy (Win Win) at the helm, Spotlight is a fascinating look behind the curtain of one of the Boston Globe’s biggest stories. Slow burning and meticulous in its execution, Spotlight is a candid look into the true world of investigative journalism, with the sense not to Hollywood-ise the players or processes of the industry.
The film begins in 2001 with the entry of a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schrieder), to the Boston Globe, who turns the attention of the ‘Spotlight’ team to the issue of cover-ups of molestation and rape within the Catholic Church. Investigative in nature, ‘Spotlight’ can take over a year to thoroughly research and publish their findings, and runs with a small team of dedicated journalists: the persistent, Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams); family man, Matty Carrol (Brian d’Arcy James); the restlessly inquisitive, Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo); and headed by the team’s leader, Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton).
While at first hesitant to look into the matter in a city that seems intrinsically connected to the Catholic Church, or ‘the Church’ as it’s simply referred to throughout, the team soon discovers that their investigation into child rape allegations against one priest is only a scratch on the surface. With Baron’s consistent pushes to look further into the matter, it becomes apparent that the corruption of the Church leads to its very core, with an unfathomable number of cover-ups, enabled by the system and the very people entrusted to lead the community.
The personal lives of the team are kept to a minimum, which leaves the focus to centre on the work itself, but gives enough to allow these characters dimension, as well as to show the extent to which the job has consumed them. Almost every actor gives a subtle performance that adds to the mundane nature of the film, although each is solidly played. McAdams (True Detective) and James (Sisters) both bring shadings of strength and sensitivity, while John Slattery’s (Mad Men) deputy editor circles the team with delicately played and enigmatic character motivations. Keaton (Birdman) takes on the mantle of being our more controversial moral guide undertaking some true soul-searching, although it’s Ruffalo (Normal Heart) who ultimately serves to channel the audience’s journey of outrage.
Even Shrieder’s (Ray Donovan) outsider editor is underplayed, but with such precision and care, that it would be perfectly acceptable to mistake him for a real newspaper editor as he strikes over-used adjectives from article drafts. The only actor to exhibit any kind of dramatic flair is Stanley Tucci (The Fifth Estate) as Mitchell Garabedian, the underdog lawyer representing the victims, who adds an undeniable frantic energy to the film every time he appears.
McCarthy works hard to present Boston as being a big city with a local feel, while actively avoiding any form of cartoonish accents. The importance of the Church to the people, and the extent to which it is engrained within the very city itself, is superbly shown through the constant inclusion of Catholic imagery that seems to lurk everywhere. Almost all shots outside the ‘Spotlight’ office include archaic churches looming in the background or ever-present Catholic paraphernalia sprinkled throughout.
The film makes a point to never leave the perspective of the Globe, and evades falling prey to flashbacks or confrontations of victims or perpetrators alike, refusing to capitalise on the tragedies for drama’s sake, excluding the opening scene. Instead we experience everything through the eyes of the team as they learn and experience it, adding credibility and an unbiased representation of events, even at the sake of the Globe’s reputation itself, which solidifies the film’s depiction of real investigative journalism through hard work, research and interviews. The only downside is that because of this distance, the film never reaches the high peaks of emotional engagement that it would have otherwise been capable of, and ends on an arbitrary note of downtrodden hope.
Spotlight‘s penchant to show hard journalism in its rawest form, which could now be considered old-fashioned in this digital age, is a daring move but one that ultimately proves to captivate, educate and entertain.