Review: Spotlight Shows How Great Journalism Can Change The World
Director: Tom McCarthy
Screenwriter: Tom McCarthy (screenplay) and Josh Singer (screenplay)
Principal Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, and Stanley Tucci
Summary: The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.
Spotlight is a movie that I’ve been looking forward to seeing for a while now. I was a little sad to find out that no screeners were turning up in the area and the only local screening was one that I wasn’t invited to. However, when an invite for Spotlight came up that just happened to be on the same night as The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two I couldn’t volunteer fast enough to see Spotlight instead. The cast looked extremely solid, the story was interesting to me on multiple levels and the buzz has been great. I also knew that ‘based on a true story’ movies hadn’t done very well in terms of keeping things interesting for me lately so I made sure to try and temper my expectations the best I could. I walked into the theater hoping I made the better choice.
Spotlight is a fascinating, and sometimes hard to watch, film about not only the Catholic molestation scandal but how investigative journalism is actually done.
In the early 2000’s a Boston area newspaper published a huge article about how the Catholic Church knew for years that priests were molesting children and did everything in their power to cover it up. The story blew up and was one of those stories that change the way the world looks at the Catholic Church as an institution. I’m an English major by trade so I was very pleased to see that Spotlight didn’t dedicate its entire running time to the scandal itself but also to the process of journalism and writing. The movie doesn’t shy away from how horrible this was, and the testimonies that were given by victims were chilling enough that you knew, deep down, that despite this being only ‘based on a true story’ that there was a lot of reality to these stories. As the movie goes on, and the scope of this story becomes bigger and bigger, there is plenty of time given to showing how you cannot rush a story like this. Despite their better instincts to get word out there as soon as possible, the journalists decide that this is a story that must be done right or it’s going to get swept under the rug again.
This combination of showing the journalistic process and hearing the testimony of victims combines to make a movie that is as compelling as it is hard to watch. This is mostly done to an absolutely fantastic cast that features Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Jon Slattery and Stanley Tucci and every single one of them brings their A game to this production. The standout, for me, was Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron the lawyer that was representing the victims in the case against the church. He’s abrasive and very rude but as the production moves along we realize that this is because he cares so much about his clients and the things that they went through. At one point he says after an interview with a victim “he’s one of the lucky ones. He’s still alive” with the perfect blend of bitterness and emotion. As Boston area reporters we get to see everyone’s upbringing in the Church conflict with the horrors that they are uncovering.
While I was watching The 33 the other week I mentioned that I could almost pinpoint when the movie was adding a scene for dramatic effect. A lot of credit needs to be given to screenwriter Josh Singer and screenwriter/director Tom McCarthy here because they do a great job of blending fact and fiction here. There aren’t huge fights with families for ‘working too much’ or moments when someone gets beaten up in an alley for talking to the wrong people. It’s a movie about a lot of conversations with various people while trying to find the truth. McCarthy is mostly known as an actor, so to see not only such a strong screenplay but strong directing come from someone with relatively little experience is amazing. I only just found out how little experience McCarthy has because I would have guessed he was a veteran. Much like Ben Affleck perhaps this is an actor making the jump and finding an even better career in the process.
Spotlight is one of those rare movies that comes along and shows the story behind the story without shifting focus. As I said it is a little hard to watch, but it is also a reminder that good journalism can make all the difference in the world. A great article, even these days, that is done right can change the world. Spotlight, much like Room, is going to be one of those movies everyone is talking about for the rest of the awards season and with good reason.