The based-on-fact investigative journalism drama Spotlight is one of the best films of the year. The movie works so well because it focuses on the efforts of a team of reporters to uncover a huge, nightmarish scandal. It's all about the process, and it never forgets that it's all about the process. The cast is full of impressive actors – Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci and many more – and they all play supporting roles, because writer-director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent) understands that turning this story into a star vehicle would have been a huge mistake. Instead, McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer work closely with the cast to color each of the characters just enough to make clear that these are individuals choosing to serve as cogs in a revelation machine.
The story: In 2001, Marty Baron (Schreiber), the newly-hired editor of The Boston Globe, instructs the paper's four-person Spotlight investigative team, led by editor Walter "Robby" Robertson (Keaton), to focus their attention on the Catholic Church, specifically on the child-molesting priests and the church officials said to be protecting them.
Energetic reporter Michael Rezendes (Ruffalo) tries to pry information from lawyer Michael Garabedian (Tucci), who represents 86 victims of one priest. Writer Sacha Pfeiffer (McAdams) looks into charges against other priests. Her interviews with their victims are heartbreaking. Reporter Matt Carroll (Brian D'Arcy James) works on tracing the predator priests, who are routinely sent to treatment centers, then reassigned to other parishes, providing them a fresh batch of children to molest.
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The investigation is slow, though the presentation is not, as the picture of priestly depravity and organizational enabling grows larger. Not only does Cardinal Law (Len Cariou) know, but it appears the conspiracy goes all the way to the Vatican. The numbers are staggering: At least 87 priests in the Boston area are alleged to be pedophiles, matching the estimate provided by a statistician.
Those naive enough to wonder if the phenomenon is an aberration isolated to the Boston area should remain in their seat at the end of the movie to watch the list of other cities. Indianapolis is on the list.
If anything, McCarthy's low-key approach makes the facts even more devastating. As I watched the nightmare onscreen, I wished that I was Catholic so that I could quit the church and urge others to go with me. The idea that an organization proven to be as corrupt as this is still supported by millions of good people astounds me. From 2004 – 2014, the Vatican defrocked 848 priests who raped or molested children and sanctioned 2,572 with lesser penalties. More than 3,400 cases of abuse have been reported to the Holy See since 2004.
I'll leave it there. Suffice to say that the film will likely stir your emotions. Spotlight is a top-notch ensemble drama that never cheats by falling into melodrama. The reality is damning enough, and the story of the investigative process is strong enough, that embellishments are unnecessary.