Movie Review: Spotlight

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A team of journalists work to uncover a cover-up of paedophilia in the Catholic church.

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Tom McCarthy, 2015

When he takes over as the editor of the Boston Globe, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) asks sub editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) to have his investigative team of journalists look into a recent scandal in the Catholic church. Struggling with their own reactions to their discoveries, the team – tenacious Mike (Mark Ruffalo), kind-hearted Sacha (Rachel McAdams), and protective Matt (Brian d’Arcy James) – defy the all-powerful church as they delve deeper into the scandal. While investigating the charges against one indicted priest, the team discovers a systemic, church-wide problem and a cover-up that goes all the way to the top. As they interview traumatised victims and unapologetic perpetrators, the team confronts a culture of silence.

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Spotlight is just a really good, well put-together movie. That’s it. This is a movie where everyone is working at the top of their game to tell a really important story in a way that is intelligent, emotionally engaging, and challenging without ever becoming melodramatic. There’s a generous realism to the film that works well, but it’s not so realistic that it drops important storytelling and structural elements. The soft, warm colouring gives the film a comforting aesthetic, starkly contrasting with the harsh truths lying just beneath the surface. There’s a through line about the importance of investigative journalism that’s set against the rise of the internet in everyday life. The writers do the legwork of finding out the facts, trawling through old written records and door-knocking to find victims and perpetrators to talk to. These scenes range from saddening to shocking, made all the better by the workaday nature of the rest of the film. Victims are treated with respect and dignity. Spotlight celebrates individuals doing their jobs, doing the best they can to tell the truth and set a terrible wrong right, but there are also shades of grey here. Characters come up against a wall of denial and are silenced by it, and the film relishes subverting tropes that lesser films rely too heavily on.

The cast performs together like an orchestra, pitching their performances nicely together so that they create a harmony where no one outshines anyone else. Films like Spotlight make a strong case for having a best ensemble cast Oscar – there were a couple of them up for statues this year, but nobody stands out as the best in a group of solid performances. There are a couple of particularly nice supporting roles from the always excellent Stanley Tucci and the less consistent Billy Crudup as lawyers on different side of the fence. All four of the journalists in the Spotlight team are on point – Mark Ruffalo gets the showiest role as the dogged Mike Rezendes (both in his persistent journalism and his more adorable qualities), but Rachel McAdams really grows into the role as the film goes on. Liev Schrieber quietly subverts expectations. While I understand that they’re constrained by the true nature of the story and the characters, it would be nice to see some women feature more prominently, particularly the occasionally mentioned but rarely seen female victims of the scandal. Movies like Spotlight charge us with our own responsibility in systemic oppression, and this one does so with aplomb.

Spotlight on IMDb

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