A director or writer I like is often more than enough to make me interested in seeing a movie. One or two actors I like is often more than enough to make me interested in seeing a movie. A subject matter, regardless of who made it or who’s in it, is often more than enough to make me interested in seeing a movie. Spotlight was directed and co-written by Tom McCarthy. Spotlight stars a massive ensemble cast that is an almost ‘best of’ collection from all of the great performances of the last few years. Spotlight is built around an important and interesting true story. Oh, and Spotlight has carried immense Oscar buzz ever since it started to appear on the festival circuit half a year ago. That’s a lot for Spotlight to live up to.
In 2001, the staff of the Boston Globe is getting ready for the arrival of their new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). With stories of cutbacks at his previous papers, Baron’s reputation precedes him in the worst way. Within the Globe is the Spotlight department, a team of investigative journalists, headed by Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton), who work on long term, secretive stories, that even their bosses don’t always know the details of.
Marty makes a ripple early on, but not the one expected by his new employees. He orders the Spotlight team, including Mike Resendes (Mark Ruffalo) and Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), to abandon their current story and go after allegations against the Catholic Church for covering up child abuse in the 70s. While Mike is on board with the hubris of his new boss, Walter is a little more cautious, and pessimistic about what is possible in the tightknit, Catholic heavy town that is Boston.
The story of Spotlight is a story of horrific, terrible abuse. And it gives its story the respect and attention it deserves by never trying to water down any of the terrible horrificness. It goes into explicit detail about what the victims went through to make sure it’s impossible to ignore the full extent of that abuse. It’s hard to watch and listen to at times, but it’s those same moments that make this movie feel so important.
As well as all of the amazing actors mentioned above, we also get John Slattery as another senior Globe staffer and Stanley Tucci as a lawyer fighting the good fight. Plus, Billy Crudup in one of the very few roles I’ve actually found him good in. With its cast of respected character actors and hot button issue storyline, it would be easy to dismiss Spotlight as Oscar bait. But in execution, it’s so much more than that.
Like All the President’s Men or Zodiac, Spotlight does the almost impossible by making phone calls and note taking more intense than any action movie set piece or fight scene. If you go into this movie knowing nothing about the real life incidents it’s based on, I imagine you’ll be blown away by the story and how it’s told. If you know all the details of the Globe articles and their findings, seeing them unfold is still amazing. No matter what prior knowledge you come to Spotlight with, I’d be surprised if you’re not rapt with the movie and angry about the story that inspired it in equal measure.