Certain movies knock you down so hard that upon leaving the theater, you can’t properly describe them. Instead, you are full of emotion, vigor and a need to tell as many people about what you just saw in a dark room with a few others. Spotlight, Tom McCarthy’s renegade tour de force, is one of those experiences. A film so powerful, important and straight on the dose that it will remove you from a comfortable position and place you down in an nostalgic zone that viewers must have felt in 1976 upon leaving Sidney Lumet’s Network in Alan J. Pakula’s All The Presidents Men. As if something was brought to your attention.
Spotlight is a film about hardcore relentless journalism and the pursuit of a truth few saw worth finding. An incredible true story that needs to be told and appreciated. I often think about the lack of knowledge we as a nation would have without journalists digging deep into the dark crevices where they aren’t allowed or told not to look. Like detectives without guns and only armed with their badge of honor, reporters have to chase down injustice and truth with all their will and place their name on top of all of it like a flag in land conquered by no one.
Back in 2002, the Boston Globe went after the Catholic Church for covering up years of sexual molestation from a number of priests. A special reporting team, aka Spotlight, was given the job by new editor in chief Marty Baron(Liev Schreiber, tearing into his best cinematic role in over a decade). The team was led by Walter “Robby” Robinson(Michael Keaton) and comprised of Sasha Pfeiffer(Rachel McAdams), Mike Rezendes(Mark Ruffalo) and Matt Carroll(Brian d’Arcy James). Their boss was Ben Bradbury(John Slattery), a guy who protected them while sheltering them from any potential blowback and showed them how long the leash was for a story.
Baron, a stoic newcomer from Miami at the time, wanted to tackle something that had been swept under the rug years ago by the Metro division. A case about molestation in the church. Taking a swing at the church was like shoving Goliath in the street and challenging him to a fight. It wasn’t about right or wrong with the church. It was about who had the guts to stand up against them and not just turn away when an advisor tells them the problem is only coming from “a few bad apples”. You wouldn’t let the police get away with something terrible if it was just a few bad people, so why the church. Baron’s greatest strength was not caring who he angered or the amount of feathers that he ruffled. He wanted to give something back to the readers. Spotlight, facing a push back everywhere, relentlessly investigates this story and finds a hidden horror that was being covered up to protect people who broke so many rules and violated so many that looking away was advised over standing up.
McCarthy has a dream cast. In addition to Schreiber, Keaton really tears into the role of Robby, a man who dictates where his team looks, reaches or pushes. It’s so gratifying to see this gifted actor tackling roles like Birdman and Spotlight that bring out all his greatest gifts as an actor. He doesn’t overplay the role but like the others here, just gives it the right amount of juice to forget you are watching an actor and believe that you are being transported back to the real event.
McAdams has worked a lot in the past two years, but only here does she find a project worthy of her talents. She may finish her career as a woman who never got the proper role to garner her an Oscar but she is an underrated actress. She gives you the two essential qualities of a journalist here. Strength and speed. She’s very good.
Many moviegoers may not know James, who has done a ton of TV work, both large and small but never received a part that had this much weight. He fits perfectly into the cast of familiar faces, with his 1970’s look and stature as the member of the group who did the digging and made sure the ground beneath Spotlight wouldn’t crumble. I am not sure he needs to work a lot more, but he is excellent here.
The best here may come from Mark Ruffalo, playing the ferocious truth seeking reporter Mike Rezendes. The other actors change their way of speaking a little and adapt a mannerism, but Ruffalo dives headfirst into this guy who didn’t eat much, sleep enough or gave his family the kind of attention that he donated to the lost souls in his columns. He is like Vincent Hanna in Heat, a man who doesn’t know how to do barbecues or ballgames yet only chase down the story. Ruffalo has been on fire lately, dominating Foxcatcher, Begin Again, HBO’s A Normal Heart or a weird indie like Infinitely Polar Bear. Talk about a guy who can’t miss and also mixes in the fun with Bruce Banner in Avengers. Here, playing Rezendes, Ruffalo is a human gas leak for all the people who wish the church was protected. He won’t stop and Ruffalo doesn’t leave anything on the table with his performance.
John Slattery will always remind me of Roger Sterling, but that doesn’t mean he can’t take a full step in a role and push something great across to the audience. Playing the guy who wanted to say No more than Baron, Slattery is a glass case of nerves that slowly shatters. Stanley Tucci also puts in good work as a lawyer who assists Rezendes.
Spotlight, like last year’s Kill The Messenger, deserves your attention. It’s not just about being entertained. It’s about learning a little about a great moment in American journalism while being entertained by actors you know and love yet haven’t seen this particular way yet. It’s about a scandal that was conveniently sleeping under a rug until a team of reporters made it right and went after it. The effect of this investigation elicited a Pulitzer Prize and hundreds of investigations into churches that stretched across the globe. In a modern age where the newspaper is dying, Spotlight is an old school kick of powerful nostalgia and a reminder that nothing is sexier in an office than fearless reporting.
It doesn’t get more timely than this, folks. Every time you go to the movies, it’s like betting on a race horse. Which one will give you the most bang for your buck? Which one is worth staking? Spotlight is a film that doesn’t just deserve your time and money. It deserves your attention after the lights up. It will start a conversation that may shake you a bit but leave knowing that what you just saw was vital to the human spirit.