Directed by Tom McCarthy
Opens November 6
An ensemble drama about an ensemble effort, Spotlight applies journalistic efficiency to the Boston Globe’s shattering exposé of how the Catholic Church coddled pedophile priests. The temptation of the subject matter may be to cut to the impact of a headline, but director Tom McCarthy accumulates his scenes with uncommon patience in a kind of formal tribute to the tenacity of the paper’s “Spotlight” investigative team. The cast plays along, from the team’s cool-headed editor (Michael Keaton) and driven reporters (Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James), and their incoming editor-in-chief (Liev Schreiber); to the vital players in the town’s overlapping circles of power (like Billy Crudup as a lawyer for the Church).
Boston so often reads as tribal in crime films, but McCarthy and company turns to the insidious fraternity of its corridors and backrooms of power, where going after the Church sounds like an affront to community values.
Since the Church’s cover-ups and clandestine relocations of criminal clergy could seem unthinkable (even though hints had appeared years before), the Spotlight team aims to get the facts on the record from victims and others in the know, no matter how awful it may be to believe this truth, much less utter and print it. Shot with a willfully plain sense of composition, Spotlight has many dramatic opportunities to break wide open into moments of outrage, but they’re infrequently taken, and keyed to the tensions of characters (Ruffalo’s Mike Rezendes, or Keaton’s Robby Robinson).
As tough as it is to convey visually the footwork—and deskwork—of investigative journalists, McCarthy shows that part of the trick is rounding out a milieu and a manner: respectively, the journalists’ workmanlike dedication to the story; and their efficient but sincere empathy. The former quality is bracingly expressed by Schreiber as the editor recently transplanted from another paper and free from local entanglements; the latter perhaps best comes across in McAdams’s stick-to-itiveness in debriefing victims—and informs the tone of the entire movie. Comparisons have been made to All the President’s Men, but if that film allowed a truth-to-power triumph, the bitter victory of the Spotlight team’s story is bound up with the sadness of its facts, shining the way to further necessary investigation.