Release Date: 29 January 2016
Running Time: 128 min
Director: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci
Journalism matters. In 2002 the Boston Globe published a series of articles on child molestation in the Catholic church. They revealed not only a pattern of repeated sexual abuse but also the frequent cover-up of these crimes by senior members of the church; when allegations arose abusers were taken from their parishes and relocated somewhere new. The investigation that led to these articles forms the basis for Tom McCarthy’s Oscar nominated drama Spotlight.
A story of crusading journalists uncovering a conspiracy, Spotlight has been compared with films like The Insider and All the President’s Men. All three share similar ideas on the role of the press, and all three share a similar murky morality but Spotlight lacks the seasoning of paranoia found in the other two. There are no bullets in the mail or intimidating phone calls, just super-injunction style legal impediments. Instead Spotlight’s sense of rigorous detail is closer to Zodiac. Just like the investigators and obsessives that populate David Fincher’s film, the team of investigative journalists at the Globe, known collectively as Spotlight, are practically drowning in paperwork as they trawl through documents collating information. They’re a dogged, determined bunch, chasing down answers and overcoming any new obstacles thrown their way.
A strong cast make the most of a tightly focused script by Josh Singer and director Tom McCarthy and the performances are terrific across the board. Michael Keaton is fantastically bullish as Spotlight chief Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson, while Liev Schrieber exudes a quiet dignity and strength of purpose as Marty Baron, newly appointed editor of the Globe. Elsewhere Mark Ruffalo’s reporter Mike Rezendes is a bundle of nervous energy, seemingly in perpetual motion and Rachel McAdams is a compassionate and humane presence as his colleague Sacha Pfeiffer.
What’s perhaps most admirable about Spotlight however is in its refusal to canonise its central characters; there are no heroic flourishes or grandstanding moments to a soundtrack of swelling strings or stirring trumpets. Instead, the Spotlight team are flawed, often lonely people, who do their job to the best of their abilities. This isn’t a movie about heroes or villains (although the whole film takes place in the shadow of some truly monstrous deeds) it’s a movie about the power of journalism and the importance of the press. Those articles in 2002 won the Pulitzer prize for journalism. More importantly they gave thousands of victims of abuse across the world the courage to come forward and talk about their experience and they forced the Catholic church to change its policy on how it deals with abusive priests. Like I said, journalism matters.