When you want a real example of investigative journalism, many times you can’t find it on your television set. Some of the best stories and work is being done with the reporters and teams at your local or national newspapers. The Spotlight team within the hallways of the Boston Globe certainly fits that bill. And as the film Spotlight shows us, their discovery in the early 2000’s was monumental to say the least.
By Kenneth Shipp
In the midst of dealing with a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), and given new directions to tackle an old piece of information, the Spotlight team consisting of Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) set off to investigate an alleged molestation that puts them at odds with the local Catholic church leaders and forces a motion to unseal court documents that lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) says will prove his client’s case. The process of doing that, at times dissuaded and eventually encouraged by their boss Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery), leads to shocking revelations the team can’t shake. Even with most of their Boston leads and contacts asking them to drop it, the team finally pieces together the decades long cover up, delivering one of the biggest bombshells in American investigative history.
Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo make this movie work for me. Keaton was solid as the Spotlight editor who continued to set the direction for the team and had to go to bat with a few of his old allies in order to uncover the truth. I was smiling most of the time Ruffalo was on screen, whether he was awkwardly pursuing a lead or debating the details with Garabedian, he had the most memorable quips of the entire film. While every member of the team was driven, he was the more emotional and vocal of the 4 reporters which helped him stand out.
That’s not to discount the other two team members, McAdams and James; they provided the right amount of balance to Keaton and Ruffalo. Along with solid contributions from Schreiber and Slattery, not to mention Stanley Tucci as Garabedian. If Ruffalo had me smiling because of his conversations with the lawyer, Tucci equally gets to share in those moments. Their banter was priceless, eventually leading to one of the bigger reveals in the film in a slightly hilarious fashion.
So much of this film stands out as a love letter to old school journalism. We are treated to many of the reporters’ tactics and thought processes, especially how they planned to use the sealed court documents and witness testimonies. There were multiple moments where some of them wanted to break the story earlier, but the same formula that had taken them that far kept presenting more and more loose threads. The tension created by this dynamic is pushed as far as it can go by the 9/11 attacks which halted their investigation. The team is left reeling and forced to shelve their release plans, to the dismay of their witness supporters and Mr. Garabedian. The cohesion of these 4 reporters is front and center during the last act. Because of it, there was an excellent satisfaction that washed over me seeing the newspaper machines fire up and delivery trucks on route to finish what they started.
The final scene will be memorable for two reasons; the phones at the Globe start to ring constantly after the papers are delivered with the whole spotlight team there to answer them. At the film’s’ end, we are shown a lengthy list of cities and parishes that were affected across the world. It sends us home with how important their work was and how far the rabbit hole went.
I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of this film and think it will have a strong chance during award season next year. Thomas McCarthy has outdone himself with the work poured in along with a solid handling of so many superb actors. Over time, Spotlight will certainly rise in the ranks of journalism movies, to the delight of myself and many others.
Spotlight: 9.5 out of 10