As Michael Keaton’s Robby Robinson explains in the film, Spotlight is about “two stories here: a story about degenerate clergy, and a story about a bunch of lawyers turning child abuse into a cottage industry.” And though that line is used to try and convince a lawyer to discuss cases, it almost perfectly explains the movie’s three plots. Yes Spotlight tells 1) the true story of decades of child abuse and cover-ups by the Catholic Church, and 2) how it took more than the efforts of Boston’s Archdiocese to keep these events secret, but it also 3) tells how the Boston Globe Spotlight team worked from 2000 – 2001 to prove it. It’s an investigative journalism film that not only rises the genre to the glory days of All the President’s Men but also hits closer to home than arguably any of its peers since the crimes investigated affect not only a community but a city, nation, world, religion, and individuals and their families. The truth’s ripple effect is palpable long after the film ends.
With such a star-studded cast, there’s reason to believe Spotlight is at least good on paper, but its excellence goes far beyond the script. It’s performed beautifully and understatedly, with Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James playing reporters Michael Rezendes, Sacha Pfeiffer, and Matt Carroll. In addition, Liev Schreiber plays Editor in Chief Marty Baron and John Slattery is Ben Bradlee Jr, an assistant editor. Throw Stanley Tucci in the mix, plus exceptional actors portraying victims of the scandal, and you’ve got a group that makes the film nearly underwhelming because it doesn’t feel like a performance at all. In other words, last year, Keaton was speaking to and becoming Birdman and literally flying (or did he?), while in Spotlight he is grounded and relatable as Robinson, thanks to his human normalcy that could make one wonder what’s so special. This praise could be given to each actor, whose subtle use of feeling and force makes the emotional rollercoaster of Spotlight all the more intense.
The film’s muted colors and moments of silence (though, props to its gorgeous score) create a somber space that only had me wanting more time, more answers. By the end (please, stay for the credits people) I was alone in the back of a theatre weeping. There’s countless reasons Tom McCarthy’s latest is getting so much attention. And it’s well deserved.