Shining a spotlight on wrongdoing is a big scoop for a newspaper, but it also holds huge risks. The small team at the Boston Spotlight was charged with investigating the involvement of Catholic priests in the abuse of children in the 1970’s, just when newspapers were beginning to founder and a new editor had come aboard. And Marty Baron (Schreiber) was an astute editor, insisting on pursuing the story even when the staff was a bit reluctant—except for one, Michael Rezendes (Ruffalo), one of the newer reporters.
Tom McCarthy, director, and co-writer with Josh Singer, has once again shown his considerable talent in telling an important story with grace, compassion, and thoughtfulness (as in The Station Agent, Win Win, and The Visitor) without indulging in hero worship or lurid descriptions. That is, he avoided focusing it as a major newspaper scoop, and kept the attention on the (in)humanity of the issue. Based on a true story, for which the Spotlight received the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003, McCarthy’s film is a docudrama about the newspaper’s honorable pursuit of the truth. In their efforts, they encountered formidable resistance from a shocking number of respected leaders in the Boston community.
The reluctance of so many to admit culpability—based on a myriad of reasons even as simple as “It just didn’t capture my attention” to “Yes I did it, but it wasn’t wrong”–is entirely understandable in some cases, but reprehensible in others. The film does a fine job in distinguishing these from one another. One sign of a story well told is if audience members ask themselves, “What would I have done?” and have to think about it for a while.
In addition to the drama, McCarthy knows how to choose musicians and cinematographers who will enhance the drama. Howard Shore’s music swells or lilts at just the right places to reinforce the drama. Similarly, cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi is skilled in capturing mood and emotion in the drama and employing the camera as a visual guide.
Now, back to the actors. Mark Ruffalo gives probably one of his most memorable performances here, although he is noteworthy in many films (e.g., Foxcatcher, The Kids are all Right, The Avengers series, and television’s The Normal Heart). As Mike in this film, he shows him as a team player, an eager beaver but with values, and more importantly one of the few who really champions and wants to protect children. (I was dismayed to see how little regard for children so many, even mothers, had, as well as the absence of any impulse to protect younger children coming up.) Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams are noteworthy as well, especially in their “naturalness” in playing their roles. He in his cool editor role who resists being regarded above his staff and she in her obviously caring but crack reporter role.
Actually, the whole ensemble is outstanding. Liev Schreiber plays a boss that we would all like to have in his wisdom, listening ear, and smooth direction of the team. Stanley Tucci delivers another of his nuanced performances (with hair this time!) as an outsider in a community that doesn’t seem to want to pay attention to what he has to say. Billy Crudup and John Slattery round out an altogether fine cast.
Obviously, I think Spotlight is one of the better films this year owing to the high level of movie-making production and ethical/moral values it epitomizes.
This is a fine film in just about every way.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland