Brilliant and gut-wrenching, Tom McCarthy’s new film Spotlight illustrates what happens when society’s sacred cows collapse, and when good people sit idly by and allow atrocities to go unpunished. Based on The Boston Globe‘s 2002 expose of the Catholic church’s sexual abuse scandal, the film follows a team of investigative journalists as they interview survivors and uncover previously missed or sometimes, flat out ignored clues into this dark chapter of their hometown’s history. Spotlight is less a “whodunit?” mystery and more of a, “How in God’s name does this keep happening?!” horror story, but remains an engaging and thrilling film throughout.
Michael Keaton stars as Walter “Robby” Robinson, the leader of The Globe‘s crack investigative team, Spotlight. Robby and his team are tasked with following up on a small story buried in the paper’s metro section, regarding the closed records of an accused local priest in a sex abuse case. As the Spotlight team soon learns, the church’s influence in the uber Catholic city of Boston is far reaching. The crew hit the streets and search through catacombs of records and heartbreaking testimonials before discovering an even ghastlier story in their midst, not only is the scope of their investigation larger than they imagined, but evidence proves that there was a massive cover up to make this scandal disappear.
Keaton follows up his larger than life, comeback in last year’s Birdman, with this sublimely low key, but passionate performance in Spotlight. His character, based on the real Globe reporter, is a Boston native and becomes incensed when he learns about what’s been happening in his backyard for decades. Mark Ruffalo and Rachael McAdams both shine as Robinson’s main Spotlight field agents, handling the bulk of this grim investigation as it slowly picks away at their psyches and personal beliefs. Stanley Tucci plays a gruff and eccentric lawyer who ends up being one of the few honest men in Boston and becomes Spotlight’s greatest ally in their quest for justice and his weary yet resolute performance is marvelous. Ruffalo has the flashiest scenes in the film, officially going off the rails after spending the last half of 2001 dealing with pedophiles and 9/11 hijackers, but aside from his outburst in the third act, Spotlight is a generally subdued, but engrossing film that feels more like a documentary than Hollywood melodrama. McCarthy doesn’t glamorize his insanely stellar ensemble cast, they’re not print media super heroes or crime fighters, they’re just honest people trying to do their jobs the best they can. He guides their earnest performances through the script’s murky, sorrow filled waters and turns what could easily be the feel bad movie of the year into a gripping, must see procedural and proves Burke’s saying correct:
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing
Thankfully, Spotlight was on the job for this one.