The newspaper industry sure isn’t what it used to be. I, however, unlike a lot of professional movie critics could not go into to much depth on this subject because I have absolutely no journalistic background outside of this blog (meaning I have absolutely no journalistic background). That said, I do think I have an affinity for movies about newspapermen — All The President’s Men, His Girl Friday, Ace In The Hole and others that I like but aren’t coming to mind feature smart, savvy reporters that’ll stop at nothing in the name of their story and the god damn truth, and I find something inherently compelling about that. Spotlight, the latest film from director Todd McCarthy taps in to this now nearly-extinct idea of bright newspaper reporters on this type of quest, while the story at the heart of this film digs into something deeper and more troubling than most movies of this ilk are willing to delve.
The story at the heart of the story at the heart of Spotlight pertains to the Catholic Church, and the constant allegations of child abuse that had been thrown their way in the Boston area. It’s 2001 and the Boston Globe’s premier investigative section of the paper known as Spotlight is looking for its next story to cover. There have already been several stories and investigations into these charges in the past, but as several sources come out of the woodwork and the Spotlight team finds themselves getting more and more wrapped up in the Catholic Church’s cover-ups, they find that this whole thing goes way deeper than they’d ever anticipated.
First off, I’ll just say the cast here is pretty phenomenal. It’s been nice seeing this second act of Michael Keaton’s career in lieu of the Birdman movie, and there’s something weirdly satisfying about seeing him trade quips with a guy like John Slattery, just because they’re two particular kinds of actors that I never thought I’d see together in anything. Liev Schreiber here isn’t nearly as wooden as we’ve come to expect him, and yet his innate woodenness actually feels appropriate for his role as Marty Baron, the unflappable editor of the Globe. Then there’s Rachel McAdams, who isn’t quite having a McCoughnassaince in the wake her work on True Detective this season, but she was still about the only thing I liked about TD season 2 and I like her again here. And though Spotlight clearly relies on this idea of the ensemble, if there’s any stand-out performance, it’s from my mancrush Mark Ruffalo, who acts as a kind of annoying embodiment of journalist determination.
I wouldn’t call Spotlight an overly flashy film, and yet I found it to be about as engrossing as anything I’ve seen this year. I would attribute this to the film being so much about the process of investigative journalism — the pounding on people’s doors, the dozens of phonecalls to the same sources, the banging your head against the wall trying to uncover something. Spotlight recognizes that this process is endlessly fascinating, which becomes even more fascinating when it concerns a story that has such high stakes and deals with a subject that is so hard to believe could happen. But at the same time, the film paints a pretty clear picture of how such an insane amount these molestation cases could be covered up, as it makes it apparent that Boston has always felt like a small town, and in particular one that has often found itself being deeply influenced by the Catholic church.
This doesn’t happen to me often, but Spotlight is a movie that I have a hard time finding really any huge faults with. As I said, the cast, the pacing, and the setting all seem perfectly calibrated to this particular story, but with just enough emotional depth to these characters to ever make things feel too mundane or mechanical. Even the way the film treats the subject of child abuse is just about perfect, as it doesn’t shy away from the psychological implications this stuff had on the young boys that were affected by it, but also it never veers in to manipulative territory. There’s even an Oscar-y type speech that Mark Ruffalo gives late into the film that could’ve derailed things, as he’s telling Keaton to publish the information they have at the time, in the hopes of nailing one particular priest. But then the scene feels less schmaltzy when you realize that Ruffalo is totally wrong about this thing he’s speechifying about. Because with a story of that magnitude, you’ve got to get every little detail right, and I’d say Spotlight does just that.
Oh, and the fact that this movie is set in 2001 and is completely treated as a period piece made me feel super old.