Review: Spotlight

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There’s a reason so few films about journalism exist, especially about the newspaper business. As the information age expands exponentially, the quaint medium of the printed press seems more and more archaic every passing year. The reality is that newspapers are a wilting species in this blooming technological era, but it’s valuable to remember that what matters most are the stories. Investigative reportage knows no shortage of breakthroughs, several of which came courtesy of a few this nation’s longest standing news venues. The dawn of the 21st century may have been characterized by larger, deadlier narratives, but one newspaper was brave enough to take on an entire institution whose currency was faith. Despite a couple of missteps, Spotlight provides a propulsive, clear eyed look at the reporters of the Boston Globe who took on the Catholic Church.

In the summer of 2001, The Boston Globe witnessed its longtime editor Jim Sullivan (Jamey Sheridan) retire after a long, successful career. His successor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), was a markedly different breed of authority. Dry and to the point, Baron decides that his first major mark on the paper is directing the Spotlight team towards digging into an old story. The team, a group of four headed by Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) is tasked with following up on a series of decades old child molestation cases within the Catholic Church. As the reporters look further into their leads with lawyers and victims, it becomes apparent that not only legal boundaries were crossed, but settlements were made, and dozens of priests in Boston remained tied to the Catholic Archdiocese. Their goal becomes not merely to out the perpetrators, but rather to point the finger directly on the entire system as a whole.

As with other journalism films, Spotlight has a wealth of exposition to sift through and distill, and it does a terrific job doing so. As the evidence against not only the church but also the legal system that protected it begins mounting, it can be intimidating to keep track of all of the paths the story takes. Fortunately, writers Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer keep everything streamlined through the four reporters. The entire cast is eminently reliable and focused, from Keaton’s straight shooting Robinson, to Mark Ruffalo’s Mike Rezendes, whose squirrelly persistence gives the film energy. If there’s one hiccup to the story, the understandable interference of 9/11 stalls the team (and therefore, the film) from moving forward for a brief period, but otherwise Spotlight does considerable work in slowly building tension with each passing scene.

For the most part, director Tom McCarthy’s no frills approach keeps the focus on the narrative and away from any overt stylistic choices.  It’s admittedly a difficult thing to give a narrative that mostly involves people at their desks or meetings any cinematic momentum. Montages are mostly kept to a minimum save for vital junctures, and yet there are a few elements that are somehow off key. The musical score that centers around a piano might be a little too generic and repetitious, and there is one major betrayal of the film’s subtlety in the latter stages. Regardless, all of the technical elements here are in support of the writing and performances, rather than indulging in embellishment. It’s ultimately the proper tone for this story, as Spotlight points to our most revered establishments, the sites of corruption under our very noses.

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~ by romancinema on November 15, 2015.

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