Spotlight follows the very intense true story of a news team that uncovered the sheer size and scope of child abuse within the Catholic church. The scope of the cover up is almost as staggering as the crimes themselves as the team digs deeper and finds themselves at odds with one of the most powerful organizations on the planet.
The Spotlight team at the Boston Globe is a specialty branch of the newspaper that takes a long time investigating big stories. They only write a few stories a year but the quality is top notch and the information behind the story has to be flawless. In the age of digital media Spotlight is a little nervous about their existence since their output is all about quality and not big on quantity. When Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) takes over the Globe, ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton) meets with to explain what they do. Half expecting his program to be cut Robby finds that Baron wants Spotlight to swing for the fences. As Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) investigate what seems like standalone cases of child molestation and abuse they find that these disgusting crimes may be connected. Thinking they are onto a handful of cases and that they have a big story they get a tip that they are still scratching the tip of the iceberg.
Spotlight is not a documentary, it is a feature film. However, when dealing with such delicate subject matter the facts have to be correct. Screenwriters Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy has the difficult task of researching some of the most disturbing crimes in recent history as well as creating a narrative that delivers the information without exposition wrapped in a compelling story with fleshed out characters based on their real life counterparts. Furthermore since the events in Spotlight take place fairly recently (2001) there was even more pressure to get the real human life details accurate. Everything displayed in the film shows that Singer and McCarthy knocked it out of the park as far as writing and directing.
The performances in Spotlight had a lot of burden to bear in this regard as well. There is not a weak link in the cast, and that doesn’t just mean the core cast. Even actors who have one scene with a handful of lines are flawless. Everyone involved in the project was at the top of their game to be sure that this sensitive subject material was handled appropriately. The stars got to meet with their real life counterparts and, if the buzz online is to be believed, brought these people to new life on screen by so accurately representing them and their actions. You can see where a bit of Hollywood magic was thrown in, every character is a representation of the segment of the audience. How they react to the atrocities they uncover and how they manage to deal with the strain of facing down the massive archdiocese and not being able to tell even their closest loved ones.
One of the most important scenes in the film and the question on everyone’s mind is what are Catholic’s views on what’s going on? Spotlight addresses this perfectly. Keeping personal feelings aside as a journalist is near impossible when it comes to stories like the one in Spotlight. When you are investigating the Catholic church as a Catholic your entire morality falls into question. Without giving more away than I already have the scene between Ruffalo’s Rezendes and McAdams’s Pfeiffer is powerful enough to give even the most blind viewer pause and should earn both actors a nomination.
Forget personal prejudices, blind allegiances, and what you think you know about the case the film is centered around. Spotlight is a well crafted movie that tells an ugly story as beautifully as can be done.