Director: Tom McCarthy
Cast: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup
Running Time: 119 minutes
Release Date: January 29th
One of the first things that strikes you about Spotlight is its incredible sense of place. You don’t have to be a frequent visitor to Boston to appreciate how it is heavily engrained in its culture. You can smell the franks at Fenway Park, live in the shadows of the churches that surround the city and walk among the people of Charlestown. And while it is a local story about local reporters working on a local case, it has larger implications that are universal, and which will resonate particularly hard with an Irish audience.
After Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) joined the Boston Globe as editor from the Miami Herald in 2001, he became aware of a priest, John Geoghan, who had sexually abused children and was protected by the local church and its head, Cardinal Law, by re-assigning him to different dioceses. Baron then encouraged Spotlight, an investigative features arm of the Globe led by Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton), to dig a little deeper which exposed a scandal that implicated 90 priests and an extensive systemic cover-up.
Director Tom McCarthy deals with an incredibly powerful story, and to his credit, handles a tough subject matter with grace and consideration. Spotlight is about the least showy or grand-standing movie you’ll see. It doesn’t look to glamourise journalism, it merely shows the virtues of hard work and persistence. McCarthy played Scott Templeton in The Wire‘s troubled fifth season, a reporter in the Baltimore Sun who indulged in some Stephen Glass-like story fabrication. David Simon’s outlook and approach to that show was utterly utilitarian and it’s clearly rubbed off on McCarthy. The cast rarely raise their voices — save for an out of place Mark Ruffalo speech that screams “for your consideration” at the top of its lungs. Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography tends to go no closer than a mid-shot and frequently stays blocked off, allowing the scene to explain itself. Its editing is completely unobtrusive.
It requires reserved performances, ones that emphasise both the responsibility and weight of what the Spotlight team was doing, not only as journalists but as predominantly Roman Catholics. The ensemble cast all give incredible performances, disappearing into the background to put the mechanics of the investigation front and centre. Ruffalo and Schreiber are standouts, one a relentless, hunched-over pitbull and the other juggles with the
Spotlight‘s strongest feature is how he shows just how easy a cover-up like this could exist. Along with Catholic guilt, it points to a Boston pride and omertà that the church used to get away with despicable acts. Phil Saviano, a victim who aids in the investigation, at one points breaks down saying, “how dare you say no to God?” Mitchell Garabedian, an Armenian-born lawyer played by Stanley Tucci notes how “if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them” and likens the relative silence of people who knew along to Good Germans.
McCarthy has made a quietly brilliant movie that handles its subject with care and sensitivity, and that turns a mirror on its audience to ask broader questions about the complicity of silence. An important and understated classic.