In my continued effort to get through as many of the 2016 Best Picture nominees as I can, I have successfully watched the movie Spotlight, which has 6 nominations (Best Picture, Best Director, Best supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Film Editing).
Spotlight is the name of the special investigative reporting team on the Boston Globe – they are three reporters (Mike Rezendes, Sacha Pfeiffer, Matt Carroll) and their boss, Walter “Robby” Robinson. In 2001, the Boston Globe hired a new editor, Marty Baron, and in doing his research on the paper he just joined, he was researching some prior articles and found a small piece about a lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, who stated that the Archbishop of the Boston Catholic Church (Cardinal Law) knew that a priest was sexually abusing children, and did nothing to stop the priest. Baron encourages Spotlight to revisit the article, and in their subsequent digging into the situation, they eventually find evidence that 6 percent of priests or 87 Boston priests, had abused children, and the church did nothing to stop it – or at the very least, supported very mild responses to the allegations. The Spotlight team pushes to get details for the story, despite pressure from the town and the church to drop the story. Eventually they published their findings in 2002, causing major uproar across the country as people realized this was happening in many more locations, and giving many more victims the courage to come forward.
This is another awards-season movie that tells a difficult story in a very high quality way. Directed by Tom McCarthy (who previously directed the Station Agent, Win Win and the Cobbler), the movie is very interesting and tackles a very difficult topic in a new style. By following the Spotlight team and focusing on the reporting of the evidence, the story sticks to delivering the facts in a very straightforward method and allows the audience to feel the reporters’ rising anger as they realize that the church did find this situation to be ‘no big deal’, and had been more invested in covering it up than stopping it. The cast is key in this, and having the right people in these roles helps to make them approachable and relateable.
- Michael Keaton plays Walter “Robby” Robinson, the leader of the Spotlight team. It’s a subtle and determined performance from him (very different from last year’s Birdman), and he’s excellent, especially as Robby slowly realizes that he had the opportunity to run this story years ago when it was first brought to his attention, but too many people shifted his focus elsewhere.
- Mark Ruffalo is nominated as Best Supporting Actor and really does a great job of slightly disappearing into Mike Rezendes, he’s consumed with his job, and seems to constantly be chasing down the truth. He gets angry when Robby wants to hold the story until they get enough to mention all the priests instead of publishing when they have enough to only call out one.
- Rachel McAdams plays Sacha Pfeiffer, and has been nominated for best supporting actress. She does a good job – I’m not sure it’s worth the nomination – but she’s very good. She has some especially difficult scenes where Sacha has to attempt to relate with her very catholic Nana as her own faith in the church crumbles.
- Brian d’Arcy James plays Matt Carroll, and does an amazing job playing the surprise and horror of a reporter who realizes that one of the church’s “treatment centers” for priests accused of abuse is near his own home. Shocked as he continues to find details – he requests that his children stay away from that location.
- John Slattery plays Ben Bradlee Jr., who was a reporter and editor at the Boston Globe, supervising the Spotlight team. He did a really good job of portraying a man who wanted to protect his city – but also needed to expose the depths of this story once the evidence was uncovered. The real Bradlee has a cameo in the movie as a journalist with a notepad listening to Slattery talk in a post 9/11 meeting.
- Liev Schreiber plays Marty Baron, the new editor of the Globe who struggles with moving to a new city, being Jewish in a large Catholic area, and then promptly backing a story that most of the town doesn’t want to hear about. Schreiber does a fantastic job of humanizing Baron, and making the audience root for him.
- Stanley Tucci in a pretty good wig plays lawyer Mitchell Garabedian. He’s the one trying to get justice for the victims, and helps Rezendes find some of the documents that he filed as proof.
- Billy Crudup plays Eric Macleish, an attorney who helped the church bury previous accusations.
I will say that I missed the fact in the beginning of the movie that the Archbishop’s last name was ‘Law’, so every time the team mentioned that Law knew, or Cardinal Law had been informed, it took me a bit to figure they meant Cardinal Law, a person, and not cardinal law – a law that applies to cardinals. It resulted in some confusion for me, but hey – just goes to show I should be paying better attention. The movie is long, but very interesting, and really does a great job of reminding you how important newspapers reporters can be. Because we currently live in a time where any information (with or without backing facts) can hit almost immediately via social media and TV, we often forget how important the grunt-work of newspaper reports can be. The Spotlight team had to go out and painstakingly research each and every detail of the story to ensure they presented the facts. I really appreciated that aspect of the movie. The movie doesn’t demonize or hero-worship anyone – it sticks right with the facts by focusing on the reporters doing their work. I also found it interesting that there have been several members of the catholic church that have come out in support of the movie.
7 out of 10 – Big points for telling a hard story in a unique way with some really great performances.