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Film Review: Spotlight

Updated on February 9, 2016

Background

In 2015, Tom McCarthy released Spotlight, based on The Boston Globes’ Spotlight team and its investigation into cases of child sex abuse by Catholic priests in the Boston area. Starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Live Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian D’arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Gene Amoroso, Billy Crudup, Len Cariou, Neal Huff, and Laurie Heineman, the film grossed $48.5 million at the box office. Winner of the Boston Society of Film Critics Awards for Best Film, Best Screenplay, and Best Ensemble, the film was nominated for the Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, and Best Screenplay as well as the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Screenplay.

Synopsis

The Boston Globe’s newest editor, Marty Baron, arrives and assigns the Spotlight investigative team to follow a trail of lawsuits centering on a priest accused of sexual abuse a number of years in the past. But as they dig, they meet with traumatized victims, corrupt clergy members and lawyers, finding that the story of child sexual abuse in Boston’s Catholic parishes runs deeper than they could have imagined.

Review

Spotlight is a very well done film and the looks to be the best pick for Best Picture going into the 88th Academy Awards. It does a tremendous job of accurately depicting reporters doing investigative work to bring forward an important story. It shows them checking into every tip they get and going after multiple sources to make sure the story they’re writing is not only accurate, but that it doesn’t leave anything covered up in order to present readers with a story that’s as deeply covered as possible. Even when Sacha is shooed away and told never to come back to a retired priest’s home, the next scene is the team talking about how they’re going to go back because they need to get that information. The reporters are also seen as not backing down when confronted by the church’s lawyers, claiming that they will produce a story one way or the other. What’s more is that it shows how a story can be pushed aside for something more newsworthy by showing that the team had to drop everything in order to completely cover 9/11. It’s an interesting, yet perfect, portrayal of reporters being the underdog in the story.

The film also notably doesn’t completely depict every lawyer within the film as having no scruples and only out for themselves. Eric MacLeish, the victims’ lawyer, may have initially been shown as a greedy attorney who is perfectly willing to exploit his clients by taking off-the-record settlements with the church. Yet, as the film rolls on, he states that he did it because that was the only course of action he could take as he sent information about the cases years ago, but the Globe practically didn’t care and pretty much buried the information. It’s a great depiction of a defeated character who tried to do the right thing and when it didn’t produce any results, decided it was best if he didn’t make any waves.

The film also presents Boston’s police rather realistically as well, rather than taking an extreme portrayal to show them as either constantly overstepping boundaries and making violent and brutal arrests left and right or full of inept officers who just stopped caring and didn’t do anything about the church and its priests because they didn’t care. Rather, it shows that they were completely aware of what was happening, that they wanted to do something, but that they couldn’t do anything because the district attorney refused to prosecute the priests.

What really makes the film so great in addition to the way the plot is carried out is the acting, especially with Ruffalo’s performance. Throughout everything that the reporters have found in the film, he brings great emotion to Michael’s reaction upon finding out that the editors have delayed the story. Ruffalo’s shouts of the police, district attorney, lawyers and church knew about what was going on and let it happen as well as how it could have happened to anyone in that room. There’s also Keaton, who acts very well as Robinson, especially during the point when he admits he could have done something years ago but chose to bury it.

5 stars for Spotlight

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinions.

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