SPOTLIGHT (USA/15A/128mins)
Directed by Tom McCarthy. Starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Elena Wohl, Billy Crudup.
THE PLOT: In 2001, the Spotlight investigative journalism team at the Boston Globe were tasked with uncovering more about a story; the claims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests. Although their readers may not like the outcome of their research, editor Marty Barron (Liev Schrieber) insists that there is story here, so Robby (Michael Keaton), Sacha (Rahcel McAdams), Mike (Mark Ruffalo) and Matt (Brian d’Arcy James) set out to uncover the truth about the case.
THE VERDICT: Directed by Tom ‘The Station Agent’ McCarthy, ‘Spotlight’ is based on the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered almost 90 priests who had preyed on young children in Boston, and how the Church simply covered up the crimes, and moved the priests from parish to parish. Although the film is led by characters, these characters spend the entire 128 minutes of the film trying to find the story so while these journalists are people, they are not what the film is about; the story is.
That said, the cast of the film is standout, and they each bring tenacity and just a hint of characterisation to their roles; enough to make the audience root for them, but not enough to overwhelm the story. Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Brian d’Arcy James make up the ‘Spotlight’ team, with Liev Schreiber and John Slattery joining in at the paper. Elsewhere, Stanley Tucci plays Mitchell Garabedian a suspicious but curious lawyer, and Billy Crudup plays a lawyer who has been dealing with the Catholic Church for some time.
Here in Ireland, we are all too aware of the abuses carried out by the Catholic Church in the past, but in framing the story of ‘Spotlight’ through the newspaper, and not necessarily the survivors of abuse, screenwriters Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy approach what could be a familiar story in a new and exciting manner. As well as this, the dialogue is smart, sensitive and simple – but not patronisingly simple – and the survivors’ stories are treated with dignity and respect.
As director, Tom McCarthy keeps the film moving at a decent pace, and allows each of the ‘Spotlight’ team to become emotionally involved with the story in their own way. Their small heartbreaks at the story almost being ignored, and the truths they learn about the institution’s abuse of power in keeping these stories in the dark and the survivors trapped in shame bring a human dimension to the story. That said, McCarthy never allows the story to become overly sentimental, since this is a film about battling through a labyrinth of secrets, lies and legal wrangling.
In all, ‘Spotlight’ is a gripping procedural about secrets, lies and abuse – both sexual and of power. Tom McCarthy has done a rare thing and made a story about a story, where each of the lead actors get just a moment to shine. Compelling and essential storytelling.
RATING: 5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Spotlight
Review by Brogen Hayes
5.0Compelling & essential
  • filmbuff2011

    Investigative journalism films are quite often meaty subject matter for actors, directors and audiences alike. Tom McCarthy’s riveting new film Spotlight shines a light on the difficult subject matter of child abuse at the hands of Boston’s Catholic priests – and the dedicated journalists who worked behind the scenes to find the truth and make it known to the public.

    July 2001. Respected newspaper The Boston Globe has a new owner, Marty (Liev Schreiber). He’s looking at ways to shake up the newspaper, along with the editor Ben (John Slattery). One of those areas is in the deep-level investigative Spotlight section. This is run by Robby (Michael Keaton) and includes journalists Mike (Mark Ruffalo), Matt (Brian D’Arcy James) and Sacha (Rachel McAdams). They work on long investigations, but Marty needs something more immediate. This is when the Spotlight team is tasked with investigating several-year-old isolated incidences of Catholic priests abusing former altar boys and other children. As the team digs deeper, they start to uncover a much bigger story. These cases are connected to a much wider, systemic problem within the Catholic Church: a cover-up of abusive priests by Cardinal Law (Len Cariou) that stretches back to the 1970s. As the team deals with difficult, hard-to-talk-to lawyers (Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup) involved with settling these cases, the true scope of the story widens to shocking proportions…

    Tom McCarthy’s last film was The Cobbler, a poorly-reviewed Adam Sandler film that quietly slipped past cinemas here. Maybe just as well. Spotlight sees McCarthy return to the sterling work of his earlier, better films like The Station Agent and The Visitor. Spotlight is his best film yet. This is a film that works on many different levels – that of the power of crusading investigative journalism and the search for the truth amid a mass of lies, corruption and silent witnesses who are afraid of what might happen to them. This comes about through a gradual build, as the story snowballs into greater and even more disturbing proportions. This isn’t just Boston or even the rest of America. It’s everywhere. This is a story that will no doubt will resonate with Irish audiences. The coda at the end illustrates how large the problem was and if you look quickly, you can spot references to Ireland. This isn’t a story so much about child abuse per se – there are no crying children here. But there are messed-up grown-up victims who you certainly feel for. It’s more about investigating the power of the Catholic Church and the way it covered up the scandal with undisclosed settlements to victims.

    As a piece of filmmaking, it’s hugely impressive. Led by stand-out turns from old reliables Keaton and Ruffalo, you get the sense that every actor was onboard with the film and the importance of what it meant. The actual Spotlight team won a Pulitzer prize in 2003 and the actors do their real-life counterparts credit for their tireless search for the truth. As the story unravels, it becomes ever more thought-provoking. McCarthy’s direction is very controlled throughout – he drives home his point with force and doesn’t get distracted by other parallel events like 9/11, which is briefly referenced. If there’s a message to this film, it’s that the Catholic Church needs to think very carefully about how it conducts itself and its affairs. After all, we’re talking about innocent children whose lives were ruined. This is thorough, probing, essential filmmaking that you just have to see. ****

  • emerb

    “Spotlight” is director Tom McCarthy’s superb, gripping and unforgettable dramatization of the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Spotlight” team of honest and courageous investigative journalists, who, in 2002, researched, exposed and published the truth about numerous sex abuse scandals by scores of pedophile priests in the Catholic church and the systemic cover-up by an institution whose wealth and power reached into every corner of the city. It may be told in a low-key, conventional and old-fashioned way but it tells an extraordinary story of a truly sensational and astonishing series of events – corruption and betrayal of the ugliest sort. Yet “Spotlight” never resorts to cheap
    shots and it isn’t tawdry or distasteful. Named for the team that reported and wrote the Globe stories, the movie “Spotlight” goes back to the early 2000s and tracks how the publication of this monumental series of articles came to be. Through a compelling and realistic screenplay, it chronicles the door knocking, the cold calls, the dogged days of research, the leads pursued as witnesses and victims are interviewed (often with great reluctance), the persuasion and the courage it took for four intrepid reporters to uncover the vast, worldwide paedophile priests scandal and the cover-up that kept this under wraps for decades.

    “Spotlight” stars Michael Keaton (in his first role since Birdman) as Walter “Robby” Robinson, the editor in charge of the Spotlight investigations. It’s 2001, and a story crops up, not the first one, about adult victims of sexual abuse suing the Church. Robinson and members of his team — the manic workaholic Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carol (Brian d’Arcy James) are intrigued. But they’re already deep in another story. Only with the arrival of an outsider relocated from Miami, Jewish editor Marty Baron (a terrific Liev Schreiber), does the Globe begin to push for the truth. A few years earlier, the Globe reported on alleged abuse by a local priest with all records sealed. Marty’s instinct is that it’s part of a long-term coverup and assigns the Spotlight staff to dig into the case records. Despite the fact that they are all Catholics and fully aware that taking on the Catholic Church in Boston will have major ramifications, the reporters carry out their assignment, the way dutiful
    journalists must, and quickly discover with equal parts horror and fascination that Baron is on to something. What follows is a two hour journalism procedural covering an investigation that goes on for months. Pfeiffer began locating
    and interviewing abuse victims, Carroll dug into documents and Rezendes
    worked a source, victims’ attorney Mitchell Garabedian. It all pushes their
    endurance to the limit and the deeper the reporters get into their investigation,
    the more incredible their findings become. Scene after scene divulges shocking
    information and it becomes clear that the Church’s systematic protection of predatory priests is far more wide-reaching than any of them ever imagined. Inside some churches, for decades, priests preyed on children, molesting
    them, abusing them, and getting away with it, despite the complaints of family members, despite the knowledge of the archdiocese, the cardinals, the bishops who sheltered the accused and merely transferred them to different parishes where they could commit the same awful crimes on innocent children. “Spotlight” gives us a series of inspired performances by a superb ensemble cast along with great supporting performances (John Slattery, Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup). All actors succeed in capturing the efficient, shorthand communication that exists between reporters and editors and the movie is also able to fill us in on the private lives of the journalists just enough for us to get a handle on who they are without distracting us from the importance of their task.

    Tom McCarthy’s movie is utterly absorbing, clearly and precisely told but playing out with the pacing and momentum of a thriller and makes for engrossing viewing. The direction, editing and writing are superb, skillfully capturing the buzz and flow of information around a major newsroom, back in the days when papers had the luxury to pay for year-long investigations by a four-person staff that
    worked on nothing else. The film makes as good a case for the necessity of investigative journalism as any film since “All the President’s Men”. At a time when the future of newspapers is in jeopardy, “Spotlight” captures the difficulty and the importance of what journalism is all about. We are reminded of the vital importance of an independent, professional press to any community and their role in shining a light on things that people in power would rather be kept in the dark. While, nowadays, printing presses may be replaced by websites and newspapers by ipads, good, thoughtful journalism will it ever be, an obsolete exercise. The movie doesn’t turn its journalists into heroes though. It is just a snapshot of what happened at a particular time and follows them as they do their tedious and critical jobs, with a realism that grips you from the outset and in fact a huge part of the pleasure of this movie comes in watching the process of work being done. It doesn’t glamorize of make any points about its subject and that’s
    one reason why it works so well – it leaves you to ponder on the horrific truth. I think that it’s fair to conclude that “Spotlight” is one of the finest movies ever made about journalism and perhaps one of the finest movies of our time that will surely be remembered for years to come.