Of course Thomas McCarthy would know a thing or two about journalism.
In 2001, with the internet slowly rising to become the top source for news and information, the Boston Globe felt as if they had struck gold. Through their investigative unit known as “Spotlight”, the Globe came upon a bunch of sources and stories about Massachusetts priests molesting children and then covering it all up with fancy lawyers and lingo that made it seem like a crime wasn’t committed. While the Spotlight team realizes that they’ve got something really strong and ground-breaking to work with here, they’ve got to do more uncovering and following to get the full story. And, well, due to the fact that Boston is a primarily Catholic-based city, it makes sense that just about everyone and their mothers are pleading with the Globe not to release this story. However, these journalists know better than to let such issues get in their way of telling the full story and uncovering what the truth about these priests are, what they did to these kids, who are mostly all now adults, and try to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.
As most of you can probably tell, Spotlight is the kind of movie that’s made exactly for me. Not only do I love journalism movies that feature journalists, doing journalism-y things, but I also love it when the journalists in the journalism movies use their job, their smarts, and their skills, to take down big institutions. Whether it be the government, hospitals, or the Catholic church – any huge institution that gets a much deserved dressing-down, then you can count me in.
Which is to say that, yes, Spotlight is not only a great movie, but possibly, for now at least, my favorite flick of the year.
One of the main reasons why Spotlight works as well as it does can all be traced back to writer/director Thomas McCarthy, who is hot of the heels of the disaster that was the Cobbler. What’s so interesting about McCarthy’s previous films (even including the Cobbler, sadly), is that they’ve mostly all been small, simple, and understated human stories that deal with the big emotions, but in a very subtle kind of way. While much of the style is still the same, with Spotlight, McCarthy is now dealing with a bigger story, that takes on a whole lot more fronts and ends than he’s ever worked with before. Still though, despite what troubles this may have caused any director in the same shoes as he, McCarthy handles it all perfectly, making sure that the story that needs to be told, is done so in an efficient, understandable and most importantly, compelling manner.
That the way Spotlight‘s story begins to unravel once more revelations come to fruition, as well as the way it begins to blend-in together, makes all the more reason why this movie is a true testament to the art of journalism, as well as those who work within it. Just like the best parts of a movie like Truth, Spotlight loves that feel and utter rush someone can has when they feel as if they’re walking upon something that could make their story, as well as the certain heartbreak and utter disappointment they can feel once they walk upon something that could feasibly break their story. There’s a certain bit of joy and pleasure one gets from watching people, who are not only great at their job, do everything in their absolute power to make sure that they keep doing their job to the best of their abilities, while also not forgetting the true reason for it all.
And while a good portion of this movie is a dedicated to the world of journalism, it’s also a dedication to those who are passionate and inspired to uncover the truth.
But, trust me, it’s not as hokey as I may make it sound; while McCarthy’s movie definitely flirts with certain ideas of self-importance, he never falls for the fact that the story he’s telling is BIG, EMOTIONAL and IMPORTANT FOR EVERYONE TO SEE. There’s an argument that Mark Ruffalo’s and Michael Keaton’s characters have where they’re combatting between the two different oppositions of this story; whether it be to tell it to sell some copies, or to expose the problems that have been going on for so long. It’s not only riveting, but also very smart, as it definitely reminds us why this story matters, but does so in a way that gets us back on-track for what needs to be told – which is, that the Catholic church covers all their wrong-doings up, and it’s time that somebody called them out on it.
Once again, though, this may sound all incredibly melodramatic and corny, but trust me, it isn’t. McCarthy doesn’t let the story get out-of-hand with overt cliches, but also, makes sure that the characters in this story stay true, realistic and above all else, actually humane. Nobody in this movie is ever made out to be a superhero for what it is that they’re doing; most of them, quite frankly, are just doing their job. While they definitely feel the need to tell this story and make it so that their points are seen, they also understand the utmost importance of faith and Catholicism, which, all being residents of Boston, means a whole lot.
And though the movie may not dig as deep into these characters as possible, it still does a fine enough job of making us realize just who these characters are, what their part of the story is, and just why exactly they matter. Ruffalo’s Michael Rezendes is always jumping around and running to the next piece of information that, despite the sometimes pushy Boston-accent, is quite entertaining to watch, but at the same time, we still get the idea that this guy loves his job so much and will do anything to keep himself alive and well.
Rachel McAdams’ Sacha Pfeiffer is the sweeter one of the ensemble, who is there with the abuse victims when they’re airing their disturbing stories out in the most matter-of-fact way imaginable; Liev Schreiber’s Marty Baron doesn’t have much of any personality whatsoever, but still feels like the voice of reason for this story, when it all seems to get a bit haywire; John Slattery’s Ben Bradlee Jr. also feels like the voice of reason, but at the same time, still very much like Roger Sterling (which is a compliment); Brian d’Arcy James’ Matt Carroll has a neat little subplot about finding out one of the accused priests live in his neighbor and how he goes about finding that out is well-done; and Stanley Tucci, is very energized here, but also seems like the most understandable character in the whole flick, showing a person who not only cares about the cause he’s fighting for, but also knows that he has a civic duty.
However, as great as everyone is, it’s Michael Keaton who steals the show, with just one look.
There’s a scene towards the very end of Spotlight where it becomes very clear just what this story means and the sort of effect it’s going to have – and it’s all on Keaton’s face. Though I won’t get into the nitty, gritty details of what occurs during the end, but after everything that has come along with the story – from the facts, to the sources, to the edits, to the fragments, to the re-writes, to the push-backs, and to everything else that has to do with it – the movie makes us understand what it was that these journalists were fighting for. Keaton, who is superb, as expected, throughout the whole movie, doesn’t fully want to believe that the Catholic church would have been involved with something so dastardly and maniacal as the evidence proves. However, though, he eventually does come to believe that evil can be real, not to mention that it can take all forms, shapes, and sizes. But rather than pissing and moaning about it, late night at the bar, he, as well as his fellow co-workers, are doing something about it. There’s a look in Keaton’s eyes as he sees this all happen and then, he accepts it, metaphorically pats himself on the back, and moves on with his job.
That’s what journalism is all about and that’s why Spotlight is one of the best flicks of the year.
There. I’m done.
Consensus: Gripping, intelligent, and above all, important, Spotlight takes on its subject without ever editorializing or leaning one way, but instead, telling its story as it was ought to be told, with some of the best actors in the game today.
9.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire