Movie Review: ‘Spotlight’


(3/23/2016)

by David Robinson, Movie Reviewer

“Spotlight” has already been mentioned by various critics as the best movie of the year and deservedly so. Sporting a solid cast and a story that is still (unhappily) very much in the news, the film has a gravitas that most Big Holiday Movies conspicuously lack. It won’t exactly make you feel good for the Christmas season, but it will likely stay with you long after you’ve seen it.

The title derives from the name of a four-reporter investigative team working at the Boston Globe at the turn of the present century. Led by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) and energized by Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), the foursome is somewhat isolated from the rest of the paper’s staff, as their unglamorous office and director Tom McCarthy’s visuals consistently remind us. They can pursue long-term projects insulated from the pressure of deadlines and are able to do deep research on important issues affecting the entire city.

So when a report of child abuse by Catholic priests in Boston comes to their attention, they are pulled off one project and told to run with this issue, despite the pressures to drop it. New chief editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) who is Jewish and freshly arrived from Miami, does not share the background and allegiances of the unit. On the other hand, all of them are either lapsed Catholics or current Protestants. Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) still sporadically attends Mass with her grandmother and is wary of hurting her feelings; Robbie has good friends and fellow alumni from Boston Catholic High School; Matt (Brian d’Arcy James) lives around the corner from a kind of halfway house for priests.

In short, the political and personal pressures against continuing their investigation are multiple and strong. They will have to confront Cardinal Law (Len Cariou), as well as various minions of the Church at all levels, from parishioners to priests to PR men. They also must deal with their own pasts and present, adding some depth to each of the four major roles.

The rest of the supporting cast, including Stanley Tucci as an irascible lawyer who has initiated numerous lawsuits on behalf of abuse survivors and John Slattery as managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr. is uniformly excellent. Screenwriters Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy develop a clear storyline that untangles a Byzantine situation stretching over decades.

 

“Spotlight” is rated “R” for language and sexual references, both of which are clearly necessary to maintain authenticity. It may not have sold a lot of tickets, but it is a more important film to see.

 

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