- Michael Keaton as Walter “Robby” Robinson
- Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes
- Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer
- Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron
- John Slattery as Ben Bradlee Jr.
- Brian d’Arcy James as Matt Carroll
- Stanley Tucci as Mitchell Garabedian
Gripping, intelligent and thought-provoking, Spotlight is based on the Boston Globe’s team of investigative journalists(known as Spotlight) in 2001 and their exposing through a year-long investigation of widespread child molestation and cover ups within the Catholic Church. Unshowy yet hard-hitting due to its attention to detail and refusal to exploit the source material, Spotlight is a film that really provokes your thoughts and shows the work of those bringing these horrifying events into the open.
The year is 2001 and the Boston Globe has a new editor in the form of Marty Baron. Something of an outsider in the predominately Catholic Boston area, the Jewish Marty is softly spoken yet very decisive. It is upon arriving that he enlists the expertise of the Spotlight team, who specialises in cases that require long and in-depth investigations. The team comprises of main boss Walter “Robby” Robinson, Michael Rezendes, Sacha Pfeiffer, Matt Carroll and overseeing managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr. After reading an article about lawyer Mitchell Garabedian who is representing a client in a case that says that the highest reaches of the Church in Boston knew of child abuse and did nothing, instead moving the priest to another parish, Marty has the team take a look at the potential story. The team is initially reluctant to investigate due to the readership being mainly Catholic, but go about the investigation nonetheless. The team in the beginning thinks that the case is just about one priest, but through their diligence and digging, they begin to uncover darker territory. Continuing to dig, through help from Garabedian, the attempts to unseal classified documents and testimonies of those who were the victims of molestation, they discover that over 80 priests molested children throughout the decades and the Church covered up their crimes by turning the other way. Shocked by their findings, the team becomes more determined to break the story and continue their search for the truth. Fighting political opposition and the Church trying it’s best to stop any story getting out to the public, it’s up to Robby and his team to break the silence on decades worth of systemic abuse and cover ups and bring the story into the light so that nothing like it ever happens again.
Now the first thing to commend Spotlight on is its treatment of the difficult subject matter. Rather than just over-embellish the story and become histrionic, it presents the events uncovered by the eponymous team with a documentary like precision. Tom McCarthy succeeds in making the film as authentic as possible and not making the horrifying findings that the team unearthed in any way sensationalized. There is a degree of respect that he keeps with Spotlight that does the subject matter justice and reveals the whole extent of the cover ups and abuse that happened throughout the decades. McCarthy wisely doesn’t use any stylistic flourishes as this is a story were the facts take precedence over that and to have overdone visuals would be wholly out-of-place and just wrong. Instead, Spotlight presents things in a gripping and powerful way that illuminates the fight for justice and the desire to bring forth the truth so it is never forgotten. The main characters in the film aren’t presented as fame-hungry opportunists trying to climb the ladder, but genuine, soulful people who cared about the story, telling it right and bringing it out in the open to expose the horror within the trusted organisation of the Church. It’s quite refreshing, due to the setting of the movie, to not see a lot of technology. Too often in movies now, there is a huge overuse of technology that often mars movies. There is the odd computer in Spotlight(yet it is not on par with today’s ones and neither should it be), but the focus is all on the note-taking, digging and legwork that went into the investigation and the impact it has it presenting the facts is deeply felt. A score that quietly builds and doesn’t overly intrude is well used throughout Spotlight as the investigation gains momentum and it is reflected in the gathering pace of the music.
The cast of Spotlight is an excellently assembled ensemble who burrow into their parts and create performances of naturalism and authenticity. Michael Keaton excels in his portrayal of the head of Spotlight Robby. He brings out a steel and drive to this man with little subtle things he does. Yet we can also sense an inner struggle that you can’t quite put your finger on that is effectively shown by Keaton. Mark Ruffalo brought a whole lot of emotion to the role of Michael with his determination growing as the horror of events opens up and his heart on his sleeve personality. His cry about how shocked he is about what the scale of abuse and the cover ups is a genuinely moving bit of acting that really makes an impact. I can see why he is up for a Best Supporting Actor award because his performance is really phenomenal. The same goes for Rachel McAdams, who is also up for an Oscar for her work as the compassionate Sacha. Her performance is one of nuance and sympathy as she talks to the victims and with her humility and warmth, helps them open up about their traumatic experiences. Liev Schreiber is authoritative and deeply intelligent as the new editor Marty, who is the person who puts the Spotlight team onto the story as he believes it needs to be told. John Slattery as the managing editor and Brian d’Arcy James as one of the group are equally as impressive as the rest of the cast. Stanley Tucci is marvellous as the lawyer who is representing many of the abuse victims and who prefers to work alone. Tucci just exudes the dogged desire to do right by these people and eventually he works with the eponymous team to help with the story.
Well-paced, superbly acted and mightily powerful in the true story it tells, Spotlight is one movie that triumphs, not due to sensationalism or distortion, but by the seriousness, authenticity and commitment with which it is told.