Spotlight ****

A strong cast and extremely well told story highlight this surefire Best Picture Oscar contender.

Is it worth $10? Yes

“Spotlight” is one of the best movies of the year; it’s a scorching drama about the damning sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church to its core in 2002 and still has reverberations to this day.

The film is excellent due to its narrative patience and superb performances. This is exactly how a great drama should be made, and take note that it eschews the histrionic crutches that many dramas rely upon and instead focuses solely on the quality of the storytelling, which is impeccable.

Inspired by a January 2002 report by “The Boston Globe,” the film follows the Globe’s investigative Spotlight team as it researches sexual abuse in the Boston area by Catholic priests. It also chronicles the widespread knowledge and cover-up of the molestations by people in power, including Cardinal Bernard Law (Len Cariou).

The Spotlight team, led by Editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) and consisting of reporters Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), is a highly competent and determined group that is undeterred by the static and distractions that come its way. It helps that the team has the support of Executive Editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) and Projects Editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery), and that it finds an unlikely (and at times, unwilling) ally in attorney Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci).

The plot develops slowly but authentically, never for a moment feeling rushed during its 128 minutes. It starts in July 2001, and in spite of the fact that 53 percent of Globe readers identify as Catholic, and that politicians, lawyers and others have taken numerous steps to cover up the indiscretions, Spotlight knows it’s on to something and becomes relentless in its pursuit of the truth over the next five months. As piece by piece of the abuses unfold, and the numbers of molesters and victims increase at an appalling rate, the importance of the story running as soon as possible is also elevated.

It would’ve been easy for writer/director Tom McCarthy (“The Visitor”) to over-emote the story by adding melodramatic tics like superfluous close-ups, a melancholic score, apoplectic emotional outbursts, etc. But McCarthy refrains, largely because he trusts the script he co-wrote with Josh Singer to have the gravitas needed to command rapt attention from the viewer. He was right to do so, especially with the cast in such complete control of the material. 

The entire ensemble is solid, including the supporting actors (Neal Huff, Michael Cyril Creighton and Jimmy LeBlanc) who play the victims. These are small but pivotal roles, as the emotions must strike a chord with the audience so we can feel the rage, frustration and disillusionment of how they’ve been wronged and root even harder for the Spotlight team to succeed.

For as good as the cast is, Ruffalo is a cut above the rest. Mike’s quirky mannerisms, off-kilter delivery and boundless energy make him the most impassioned and unique member of the Spotlight team, and therefore also the most memorable. He has a scene late in the film that’s pure Oscar bait, so let’s hope the Academy takes the bait and gives him the supporting actor nomination he deserves.

In addition to its stalwart depiction of the investigation into the scandal, “Spotlight” is also a reminder of what journalism can and should be when done the right way. If you’ve never felt the rush of a newsroom as deadline looms, and/or the camaraderie shared by fellow journalists after a job well done, that may not mean anything to you. But for those who’ve crafted their careers and livelihood from their work in journalism, it’s a beautiful sight to see.

Did you know?
“The Boston Globe” won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for its “meritorious public service” in covering the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal.

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