Zaki's Review: Spotlight

In our current age of clickbait articles and nonsensical "listicles" passing for news, it feels like the role of traditional journalism is being called into question more and more. As such, it's reassuring to get a movie like Spotlight to help reset our collective compasses. Director Tom McCarthy's riveting dramatization of the real life 2001-2002 Boston Globe story that exposed widespread criminal sexual misconduct within the Boston Archdiocese is riveting and ceaselessly compelling, while also illustrating the inherent nobility of reporters hitting the streets and chasing down leads and finding sources.

The "Spotlight" of the title refers to the investigative wing of Globe, led by Walter "Robby" Robinson (Michael Keaton). When they're prodded by new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) to look into accusations of potential sexual abuse within the Catholic church, the team, which also includes Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) and Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams, who played a similar role in 2009's State of Play) begin the long, deliberative process of finding out if there's a "there" to the story. What they uncover soon puts them on a collision course with the city's elites, who very much want this kept quiet.

Now, these events are relatively recent (or at least, fourteen years later, they feel relatively recent), so I certainly remember hearing about the scandal at the time. However, I had no idea just how much time, effort, and personal risk went into pursuing this story. One thing the film (featuring a script by McCarthy and Josh Singer) conveys masterfully is how so much of reporting is about waiting, waiting, waiting for a lead that may or may not even pan out. It's about an off-hand comment from a source that might inadvertently launch you into something entirely unexplored. And sometimes it's just plain dumb luck and being in the right place when news breaks.

There are many reasons this movie works as well as it does, among them the crackerjack pacing, but certainly foremost among them is the endlessly watchable cast that McCarthy has assembled to populate both key and supporting roles. Both Keaton and Ruffalo turn in some of their very best work in long careers of memorable performances, and Schreiber disappears into his character in a way I've rarely seen from the always-dependable actor. All of them convey both determination and camaraderie that really made me wish I could be part of this team.

Given its subject matter, I have no doubt that many discussions of Spotlight will automatically or eventually engender comparisons with such old-fashioned journalism movies as All the President's Men (arguably the gold standard for this particular genre). But in this case, such comparisons are both welcome and warranted. Just like Alan Pakula's seminal 1976 thriller chronicling the investigation that brought down the Nixon presidency, Spotlight is about exactly what traditional journalism can and should be: finding the truth, even if it threatens entrenched power structures. Especially if it threatens entrenched power structures. A+

For more on Spotlight, as well as a lengthy discussion the latest James Bond film, check out the latest episode of the MovieFilm Podcast via this link or the embed below: