In 2001, Marty Baron (played by Liev Schreiber) began to oversee the Boston Globe, still a prosperous newspaper despite the upcoming of the World Wide Web. He proposed to dust off the cobwebs off of a story about a little-heard-of piece about sexual abuse charges in the Catholic Church. Baron sent the Spotlight team – seasoned vet “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) and a go-getter staff of Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) – deeper into an investigation nobody seemed to care about.
What Spotlight ended up getting out of it was a rabbit hole of scandals and cover-ups of the Catholic Church’s influence over younger children. To call the Church to the stand would be an uphill battle at best, and would threaten to hurt their readership, which showed that over 50% were Catholic. They pressed on, uncovering the truth and bringing these figures of spiritual trust to justice. That, in its simplest essence, is the story of scandal.
The film Spotlight is doggedly researched, completely journalistic in attempt. Directed by Tom McCarthy, the film is never about the operatic goings-on behind this nationwide investigation, but about the heart of journalistic integrity. Thorough and no-nonsense, Spotlight is a fine piece of film.
What McCarthy does best in his direction is the way he emphasizes the ensemble performances instead of hovering over one character. This works as a platform for which the true story can meander naturally and allow the characters to react otherwise. The Spotlight team, same as the title, refers to an almost underground sect at the Globe. They seem to be some of the hardest researchers on the team, as there are only a select few. This exemplifies McCarthy’s stress of the ensemble.
Michael Keaton, who had a stellar year revamping his career with Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), proves he’s equally effective in a supporting role as the weathered leader of Spotlight. His Robby Robinson is never too cynical or beaten down like his colleagues. He remains a sober center for the film, which he accomplishes with incredible gentility. Mark Ruffalo is also a standout, as the writer without a second life. In one scene, perhaps the film’s most personal, he confesses that he stopped going to church because he wanted a reason to go back. Ruffalo plays this with human vulnerability, never overacting.
What makes Spotlight exemplary is how it simply is not extraordinary. Never in the script does McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer cheat and make the story more personal than it needs to be. They know that they want to give information on the people who gave the information about this scandal.
A hard-nosed look at the film detects that some of the plot is critical of the Church, and even if it flies to close to that sun, it is a mild detractor from the film. Other than this possible implication, Spotlight is a crackerjack film in journalism and in telling the truth.