Writer/director Tom McCarthy together with co-writer Josh Singer delve into recent history with a detailed examination of an investigation by the Boston Globe which began in the early 2000s. The subject was potential clerical child sexual abuse in the Boston area and the ramifications for the country and the Catholic church were significant.
It’s all the more impressive then that Spotlight is, for the most part, a quiet and measured film. It’s about a team of professional journalists and investigators who discover what might be the biggest story of their careers and, instead of posting a sensational headline for immediate gratification, spend months and years verifying sources, checking data and building the kind of story they can stand by.
The film operates in the same way, taking a step back from the very emotional issues at its core. By focusing on the work by the journalists, we work at a slight remove from melodrama, something they also had to do in order to finish the job.
There are a few grandstanding moments, Mark Ruffalo in particular seems to be reaching for that Oscar nomination (which he got), but this oblique angle makes it all the more effective. We’re left to imagine the horrifying truth behind these accusations, and picture the decades of lies and deception which protected the people involved.
It’s an important story then, but also one which has already been told by the Globe writers. There’s a sense here also of celebrating that sense of righteous journalism, of being committed to the truth because it’s the right thing to do. This kind of long form art is on its death bed in the Buzzfeed world and McCarthy wants to point out how vital it is before its draws that final breath.
A fine cast carries this weighty stuff – Ruffalo’s passion is necessary to keep some energy in the piece while there’s good work from Liev Schreiber, Michael Keaton and John Slattery. As almost the only female player, Rachel McAdams doesn’t get a lot to do.
Without the lurid elements of some similar tales, Spotlight is arguably a more effective film. We don’t spend much time with the victims because, as Ruffalo says, ‘it could have been any of us’ and that’s the horrifying truth of this insidious evil which still exists today. For that reason alone, Spotlight is essential viewing.