Film Review: Spotlight

From Left to Right: Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, and Brian d’Arcy Adams.

Since 1976, All the President’s Men has been seen as the quintessential film about journalism. We’ve had a number of films after that classic that have focused on journalism. Zodiac, State of Play, The Paper, they’re all entertaining films, but none of have reached the heights of Alan Pakula’s wonderful film. Until now.

Spotlight is about the real-life Boston Globe investigative unit, Spotlight, and their news coverage of the Massachusetts Catholic sex abuse scandal. Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton) is the head editor of the Spotlight team that includes Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carrol (Brian d’Arcy James). The team is asked by the new head Boston Globe editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) to hold any other story they are working on and start looking into the buried allegations of child-sex abuse by Catholic priests within the city of Boston. After initial apprehensions to the story, Robinson and his team decide to take the assignment.

The characters in this film are no saints. Each of them have flaws to some degree, some of which you won’t see until the very end of the film. Spotlight starts off a little slow, but by thirty minutes in you are strapped in for one of the best detective-like stories in years. The story is full of twists and turns to where even if you know the story you are still surprised each step of the way. Tom McCarthy follows up his critical and commercial failure of a film The Cobbler (which I did kind of enjoy by the way) with the film that could go down as one of his finest works. McCarthy and Josh Singer’s script gives us an honest and intriguing look into a incredibly dark topic that rocked not just the city of Boston, but the entire world.

The film is packed with an all-star cast, all the way from the top to the bottom. In last year’s Birdman, Michael Keaton gave a larger than life performance as Riggon Thomson, but in Spotlight we get to see Keaton in one of his most subtle and brilliant performances of his career. He is the “heroic” leader of the pack, but the secret that motivates him is so well done by performer and co-writer/director Tom McCarthy that it hits you like a ton of bricks. Mark Ruffalo gives another outstanding performance as the fast-talking, peculiar Bostonian reporter. I would not be surprised if Keaton and Ruffalo both wind up with Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor (I’m picking Keaton for the win though). Rachel McAdams’ performance as Sacha Pfeiffer, however, is the backbone that holds everything together. Like Ruffalo was for last year’s with Foxcatcher, McAdams is the one that keeps everything leveled for me. It isn’t the showiest role in the film, but it is one of McAdams’ strongest performances. Brian d’Arcy James, an actor mostly known for theatre, rounds out the rest of the Spotlight team with a breakout performance. Everyone looks to the star actors on the team, but James is the unsung hero of the group. Also, one interesting connection between Spotlight and All the President’s Men is John Slattery’s character Ben Bradlee Jr., an editor of The Boston Globe. Bradlee’s father, Ben Bradlee Sr., was actually the head editor of The Washington Post during Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s coverage on the Watergate Scandal. Jason Robards played Bradlee in All The President’s Men and he won a Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the performance. Slattery does not have as large of a part as Robards did, but his supporting role is a solid one. Then you have Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, and Liev Schreiber who all give great supporting performances the film. Every person brought their A-game to this film and it works tremendously.

All great films reveal something about the human condition. Spotlight is a film that shows us a number of things. Power and respect does not always mean good. Good people can make bad decisions, but it is never too late to make up for them. It is a story of heroism and failure. It is a dark story that brings light. It is a film that packs a punch and it will leave you wondering how something so large took so long to find. The scariest of evils is not the boogeyman under the bed or the monster in your dreams; it’s the one that lurks in plain site. Spotlight is a movie that shows us that.

Rating: 5 out of 5

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