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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 12.9%
Average: 3.23%
Pretty Bad: 3.23%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 13 user ratings

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by alejandroariera

"Telling the truth, shaming the devil…or the Lord."
5 stars

With the exception of the much-vilified Adam Sandler vehicle “The Cobbler,” the films of actor turned writer-director Tom McCarthy revolve around communities: those we build around strangers who end up being our equals (“The Station Agent,” “The Visitor”) or already established ones (“Win Win”) impacted by our actions. In “Spotlight,” McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer use a larger canvas to tell an equally large story: the Boston Globe investigation that opened a veritable Pandora Box of crimes long hidden by the Catholic Church.

The film centers around three intertwined communities: the city of Boston (described by Cardinal Bernard Law in the film as “still a small town”); the city’s Catholic community; and the newspaper’s reporters who were part of the Spotlight investigative team. In this city, editors rub shoulders with the town’s hoi poloi, some of whom went to the same high school, and reporters go to church with their families. Only an outsider can shake the paper’s and the city’s complacency; that outsider is Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), a former editor for The Miami Herald newly appointed by the Globe’s new owners, The New York Times, as the paper’s new executive editor.

The year is 2001, a fateful year for this country in more ways than one. The winds of change are beginning to blow: mention is made of URLs and declining readership. Baron still believes in the power the press has in telling the kinds of stories that will have an impact on his readers and the city they live in. He believes in holding the powers that be accountable. So, when he invites his columnist to his first editorial meeting and uses that morning’s column about a judge’s decision to seal the documents on a civil suit against the Archdiocese and priest, John Geoghan, accused of molesting over 80 kids to question his editors and lawyers about their lack of follow through, Baron sets in motion a chain of events whose aftershocks are still being felt today.

As far as Baron is concerned, this story is worthy of the Spotlight investigative team led by editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton). Conscious of the ripples the investigation will cause in their strictly Catholic city, Robby reluctantly puts his team to work. Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) is tasked with convincing the plaintiffs’ lawyer Mitch Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) to turn over all the paperwork and let him speak to the victims; Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) is also tasked with interviewing the victims and a lawyer who unsuccessfully tried these cases of sexual abuse and ended cooperating with the Church; and Matt Carroll (Brian D’arcy James), the numbers-crunching man, is assigned with looking at old records and newspaper clippings the old-fashioned way: not by Googling (although at that time he might have used AOL or Netscape) but by looking at hard copies of directories and reports as well as microfiches and microfilms. As a former employee of the Chicago Tribune’s Editorial Information Center (a.k.a. The Morgue), these scenes made me smile as I recognized some of the research tools used by Matt.

As the Spotlight team begins to painstakingly build their case, it becomes evident to them and to Baron that Geoghan’s actions are evidence of a more systemic problem, one that goes straight to the top of the Catholic Church. As the team digs deeper, that simple case turns into an institution-wide scandal where more than 90 priests were accused of committing acts of child abuse, all covered-up by the Church.

These four reporters know, as they walk the streets of Boston, dig for records and interview abuse victims and the powers that be late into the night, that what they are doing will forever change the communities they call home. They all have ties to Boston’s neighborhoods and to the Catholic Church. McCarthy and Singer gently and subtly address this dilemma without hitting you over the head with it. For while it is truly exhilarating to see these professionals at work, it is during those intimate moments, away from the office, sitting at a dining room table, when you see in their faces the pain, the doubt, the toll this investigation is taking on them, that “Spotlight” transcends its journalistic roots. Their faith in these institutions —the Catholic Church, their own newspaper which, for years, buried these stories deep in the Metro section— is put to the test. And yet, their faith endures.

“Spotlight” is a true ensemble movie, one in which the actors live each part as if they, themselves, had taken part in the proceedings. Keaton’s performance is the complete opposite of his tour-de-force in last year’s “Birdman”: subtle, toned-down, one that requires him to observe and listen, his perpetually inquisitive eyes cutting through the bullshit. Ruffalo’s Resendez is the impatient, take no prisoners, workaholic bulldog to Keaton’s measured inquisitor. His one big argument with Robby halfway through the film is one that I know will be familiar to many a journalist who has thus engaged his boss in the newsroom. But there is also a lot of hurt in Ruffalo’s performance: he is a man who can never go back to an institution he once found comfort in, not after all he has uncovered.

McAdams is spectacular in what turns out to be one of the most challenging roles in the film: the fearless yet sympathetic newswoman who faces her own doubts. Her performance is as understated as Liev Schreiber’s as Baron. He is so quiet, so rational, so measured that you have no choice but to pay attention whenever he walks into a room.

It would take me a thousand more words to sing the praises of each cast member. But special mention must be made of the actors who, respectively, played Phil Saviano, the founder of SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests), and two of the abuse victims: Neal Huff, Michael Cyril Creighton and Jimmy Leblanc. They sensibly portray the suffering and pain these victims went and are still going through. McCarthy and these actors understand that words and memory are far more powerful in conveying the hurt that any flashback or any other visual gimmickry would.

“Spotlight” stands alongside “All the President’s Men” and “The Insider” as one of the best U.S. films about journalism. But it’s also more than that. It explores, through these reporters and the people their stories gave a voice to, the horror that any institution and the human beings running them are capable of, and the communities willing to turn a blind eye to it.

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originally posted: 11/12/15 13:56:28
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Venice Film Festival For more in the 2015 Venice Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Savannah Film Festival For more in the 2015 Savannah Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Hawaii International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Hawaii International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/21/20 Marty Great depiction of a tragic reality. Media at its best. Not memorable over time tho 4 stars
11/08/19 Karen S Brilliant depiction of real events with an excellent cast & top-notch script 5 stars
7/19/16 TdW Very good 4 stars
6/29/16 Jamie Great movie, superb acting. Loved it! 5 stars
5/20/16 Emaronh good movies, no doubt 4 stars
4/21/16 Nick Worth the praise, I would give it 4.5 stars if allowed, but Ill go with 5 5 stars
3/21/16 Frenzy Just ok 3 stars
2/27/16 Toni Excellent one of if not the best movie of the year 5 stars
2/02/16 Maria “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” 5 stars
2/01/16 Luisa Very moving, well acted, well made. I won't be able to go to church for a while. 5 stars
1/23/16 Langano Well done. 4 stars
12/06/15 Bob Dog Nothing a TV docudrama couldn't have done better. 2 stars
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  06-Nov-2015 (R)
  DVD: 23-Feb-2016


  DVD: 23-Feb-2016

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