Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 2015. Participant Media, First Look Media, Anonymous Content, Rocklin\Faust. Screenplay by Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy. Cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi. Produced by Blye Pagon Faust, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin, Michael Sugar. Music by Howard Shore. Production Design by Stephen H. Carter. Costume Design by Wendy Chuck. Film Editing by Tom McArdle. Academy Awards 2015. AFI Film of the Year 2015. Golden Globe Awards 2015. Gotham Awards 2015. Independent Spirit Awards 2015. National Board of Review Awards 2015. New York Film Critics Awards 2015. Toronto International Film Festival 2015. Washington Film Critics Award 2015.
A new editor takes over the Boston Globe and tells members of “Spotlight”, a team of journalists who do deep work on long research projects, that a story has come up that he thinks they should pursue. A Catholic priest accused of multiple cases of sexual abuse against children in his parish could possibly have been protected from legal repercussions by a Cardinal (Len Cariou), the plaintiffs in the case represented by a magnificently eccentric lawyer (Stanley Tucci). Michael Keaton is powerful as the head of the Spotlight team who sends out his reporters Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James and Mark Ruffalo to interview victims and experts and gather material for a big story that they will eventually print, while at the same time the newspaper files a motion to have court-sealed documents made available to the press. What these many players discover is a morass of lies, cover-ups and years of criminal activity as the story comes to eventually cover almost eighty perpetrators of abuse and the evidence that keeps piling up against them. The goal is now to go further than just accusing individual men of crimes but to take on a system that covers up scandals in the name of protecting the authority of the church and, in doing so, has caused damage to so many lives. Tom McCarthy’s deeply involving drama is a great story about an interesting period in the newspaper business, when the internet had not yet withered journalistic integrity but the crumbling financials of the print business means that these writers don’t have touchy editors constantly micromanaging their work or fearfully asking them to back off a subject that could endanger an important aspect of the city’s economic or political structure. In fact, the ease with which these reporters find their subjects (victims or perpetrators alike) and the relatively few conflicts involved mean that McCarthy is challenged to make it all dramatic: given that the entire thing was achieved through intelligent assemblage of information and not heated confrontations, McCarthy has to find the pace somewhere, and he does so in ways that are often successful and sometimes not. It’s wonderful to see a film that doesn’t add a kind of thriller glamour to a story that took place in the real world, with ugly offices and realistic conversations absorbing you more than heated courtroom confrontations or invented violence. That said, McCarthy gives the film too many of its hotter moments by presenting theories and emotions with the same conviction that he presents facts (Ruffalo, who is about as ridiculous as Keaton is controlled, is an egregious example of this). The noble pursuit of quality journalism is focused on and celebrated, but one gets the feeling that McCarthy, whose The Visitor is still one of the most unintelligent, manipulative pieces of tripe in the last decade, resents having to bow to such legitimacy when he’d rather be focusing on everyone’s feelings. McAdams is the best performance in the film after Keaton but, for some insane reason, her character is reduced to sympathetically listening to other people’s problems while rarely getting to contribute anything of her own. The upside is that McCarthy very ably includes as many facts and issues as are necessary without letting it ever feel bloated or messy: Boston’s strong Catholic presence (that the editor of major newspaper is Jewish is pointed out quite a bit), class divisions and facts of various cases going back many years make the film’s two-plus hours go by very quickly and are streamlined very neatly. The fact that the film is not either All The President’s Men or The Killing Fields does not mean that it is either forgettable or light; the conclusion that we arrive at, in which we are forced to face our own culpability in these matters instead of pointing fingers at easy, evil targets, is deeply satisfying and makes the film well worth watching.