Biography Drama

'Spotlight' Film Review: A newspaper drama worthy of the front page

November 13, 2015Ben MK

In Ron Howard's 1994 film, The Paper, Michael Keaton played the editor of fictitious tabloid, whose reporters were trying to uncover the details of a police cover-up. Fast forward 21 years and Keaton is back in the newspaper game, starring opposite Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schrieber and John Slattery in director Tom McCarthy's Spotlight. Only this time, the story is real, and the cover-up has to do not with law enforcement, but with a well-respected religious institution.

Based on actual events, Spotlight is the story of what happened in the months leading up to the Boston Globe's explosive 2002 exposé of rampant child molestation within the Catholic Church, and follows the four-member "Spotlight" investigative team — comprised of Walter "Robby" Robinson (Keaton), Mike Rezendes (Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James) — as they spend half a year interviewing victims and meticulously following the trail of evidence, all culminating in the publication of the January 2002 article that shocked the world.

Written by McCarthy and Josh Singer, Spotlight is two films in one. On one hand, it's a news drama in the truest sense, a piece of filmmaking cut from the same cloth as a classic like All the President's Men. But it's also a compelling examination of faith, providing a riveting look at how people respond when their faith is shaken — or even worse, rocked to its core. How the movie accomplishes being both of these things comes down to its terrific cast, who deliver mesmerizing performances whether they're nose-deep in their research or reflecting on the impact of the case on their own personal lives.

Without a doubt, it's an ensemble effort. But if there are any performances worth singling out, it's that of Keaton and Ruffalo. The former plays the leader of the Spotlight team, who comes to feel a measure of guilt about the fact that he could have brought the story to the public years sooner, but chose not to; while the latter portrays the lead reporter on the story, who invests himself wholly into bringing the truth to light, becoming deeply affected by the ordeals of the victims. Both actors bring considerable depth to their roles, and the narrative is shaped in part by their characters' journeys.

McAdams and James round out the Spotlight team, adding a feminine touch and the perspective of a family man to the mix. Meanwhile, Slattery and Schrieber play the Globe's managing editor and new editor-in-chief, the latter of whom was the one responsible for placing the story in Robinson's hands to begin with. Then there's Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup, who both portray lawyers, one of whom deals almost exclusively with helping the victims of abuse, while the other has basically become the go-to man for striking up settlements between the Church and the victims.

Together, these eight actors make Spotlight — a film that centers on the extremely hard-to-watch topic of child abuse — extremely watchable. Which is not to say that the movie sugarcoats its subject matter in any way. On the contrary, watching some of the victims recount their incidents of sexual abuse at the hands of the most-trusted members of their communities is absolutely gut-wrenching. Still, it's a testament to the film and to the talents of the filmmakers that the movie works — because like the real-life events that inspired it, this is a story worth telling.

Spotlight releases November 13th, 2015 from eOne Films. The film has an MPAA rating of R for some language including sexual references. Its runtime is 2 Hrs. 8 Mins.

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