by Alan Yudman
Rarely does a movie bring tears to my eyes even before it is half over. Usually, it has to build some emotional capital before you can become invested in the story or the characters. SPOTLIGHT breaks that rule. This is the story of how the Boston Globe uncovered and reported on the priest sex abuse scandal in the Boston Archdiocese, reporting that started a snowball that has now covered the world. It details how three reporters and one editor for the paper’s “Spotlight” investigative team were able to fight, scratch and claw and shine their Spotlight on horrific crimes. The details of the scandal are well known and well reported. So, I’m not going to go into the details of what the priests and the church did to more than 1,000 young boys and girls. The film is about the crime. But it mostly about how the Spotlight team struggled to uncover the story, how they fought the inertia created by a city that is populated by a Catholic majority and how the Church used its influence and power to cover it up. But it is also about how the Globe let it go underreported for years, even after they had the breadcrumbs but couldn’t follow the trail to its conclusion. The screenplay by Josh Singer and director Tom McCarthy feels real and accurate. Singer has a law degree, so the legal bits appear authentic. McCarthy’s direction is very good in that he stays out of the way. He lingers on faces just long enough, captures the truth through the lens. The cast is simply fantastic. Mark Ruffalo, Micheal Keaton, John Slattery, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci and probably a dozen more actors turn in powerful performances. The standouts are Ruffalo, Keaton, Schreiber and Tucci. Ruffalo is the driven reporter Michael Rezendes. Keaton is the bulldog Spotlight editor Walter Robinson, Schreiber is the paper’s new editor and Tucci is the committed and quirky lawyer who represented many victims, Mitchell Garabedian. Each performance taps into something deeper. Rezendes is a disillusioned Catholic. Robinson is deep inside Boston’s Catholic culture having grown up in the Church. Baron is the Jewish outsider who everyone thinks has an agenda. Garabedian is selfless and seemingly out for justice without eyes on fame or fortune. The moral conflict of all the characters is just below the surface. With few exceptions they have ties to community and Church and are conflicted about what they are learning. They are also being pressured by powerful men to just let it go. Yet, they know it is a story that must be told no matter how it affects their lives. The villains and heroes are well defined. It is easy to root for the reporters as they keep uncovering shocking crimes and even easier to root against the Church and priests. Stay for the credits. I won’t spoil what is there, but it will remind you about the scope of these crimes. SPOTLIGHT is a powerful film. It reminds us of what journalism can do when it is not obsessed with pop culture and making a buck and when reporting speaks truth to power. SPOTLIGHT is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year and it is easy to predict it will be an Oscar contender. Even if no awards are won, SPOTLIGHT has reminded me of why I got into journalism in the first place. More important, it reminds us that predatory priests are still out there and the Catholic Church is still not doing enough to stop them.