Thursday, November 05, 2015

“Spotlight”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new drama “Spotlight”, starring Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber and Mark Ruffalo. 


When a team of Boston Globe investigative reporters research a scandalous story about the Catholic church, will the church find a way to have them silenced before the story can be published? 


When Marty Baron (Schreiber) takes over as the new Editor of the venerable Boston Globe newspaper in 2001, he casts a careful eye at the paper’s resources with thoughts of cutbacks.  Researching the publication once he steps into his new role, Baron comes across an old story that looks as though it got unnecessarily buried years ago:  Boston priests were believed to have molested local children and the Catholic church seemed to be doing everything it could to cover it up.  Learning that The Globe has a small group of investigative reporters known as The Spotlight Team, he assigns them the task of following up on those allegations. 

Eager to prove his team’s worth to his new boss, Robby (Keaton), the Spotlight manager, immediately has Spotlight drop everything to focus on what appears to be a potential scandal; one of the reporters leading the way is Mike Rezendes (Ruffalo), who doesn’t mind doing whatever’s necessary to nail whoever is guilty.  Along the way, Spotlight naturally runs into various obstacles:  some victims are hesitant to talk, a number of the accused priests refuse to admit guilt and the Archdiocese of Boston tries to shut down the investigation altogether. 

Gradually, and through the persistence of Spotlight reporter Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), some of the victims see the Globe is sincere about revisiting this crime, so they acquiesce and reveal their tale.  Rezendes is even able to convince a lawyer (Stanley Tucci) who represented past victims to get his former clients to agree to an interview with the reporter.  Soon, the church sees that the Globe’s Spotlight team is relentless in its tenacity.  But when the events of September 11th occur causing Spotlight to be distracted by this major news story, will this prove to be the divine intervention the church needed to prevent the scandal from being reported or will Spotlight return to their investigation once the interest about the terrorist attacks die down? 


The reviewers of Rotten Tomatoes have overwhelmingly endorsed “Spotlight” and it’s understandable:  the movie lionizes the so-called “ink-stained wretches” who work in the newspaper industry and most of those critics also work in that same business.  Since they are indirectly made to appear heroic, why wouldn’t they give the film positive reviews?  But there is one thing that blows that entire reasoning to smithereens:  “Spotlight” is quite worthy of much of the praise.  It’s a fast-paced motion picture that gives the impression that you’re feeling the same sense of urgency the reporters did. 

“Spotlight” features a sensational cast with expert – and often understated – performances.  One exception might be Ruffalo, who’s a bit over the top at times, with some scenes that feel a bit clichéd.  If you’re able to overlook that, “Spotlight” can be quite a treat.  Inevitably, there’ll be comparisons between this and “All The President’s Men”:  both feature protagonists that are newspaper reporters and both focus on researching and reporting a major scandal.  That’s unfortunate because where “Spotlight” differs is the point in time in which it is set:  with the the Internet essentially destroying the newspaper industry, it provides proof that good journalism will always be relevant.   

Like many other movies recently released, “Spotlight” suffers from the unfortunate fact that it is based on true events and – again, like “All The President’s Men” – can face some challenges when it comes to maintaining a degree of suspense when audience members may already know full well the outcome.  Looking past that, “Spotlight” is about much more than that – it is a morality tale:  not just about the morality (or lack thereof) of the Catholic church, but the morality and ethics of the newspaper industry. 

Spotlight (2015) on IMDb

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