As Spotlight’s closing credits start to roll, we’re not told that the Boston Globe won the 2003 Pulitzer, the Polk Award, the Goldsmith Prize, or the Selden Ring Award (among others) for their investigation of the priest abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.
No, this is not a story about how a handful of reporters became superheroes and exposed a major moment in American history. Instead, as with 1976’s All the President’s Men, it’s the process that’s the hero– including the victims who came forward to share their story and the fact that there’s a free press where their voices could even be heard. The reporters are just the conduits who made it happen in the course of doing their job.
It’s that fact that, more than any other, makes Spotlight one of the finest films of the year. In director Tom McCarthy’s (The Station Agent) expert hands, it becomes a very human, very heartfelt movie, driven by subtle performances and smart, nuanced script, which McCarthy co-wrote with The Fifth Estate’s Josh Singer.
Michael Keaton is “Robby” Robinson, the head of the Globe’s Spotlight investigative unit. And when the paper’s brand new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) tells asks him to re-visit a shelved story of alleged priest abuse, Robby and his team get the ball rolling. Reporters Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) all drop what they’re doing and start pounding the pavement to find answers.
As with All the President’s Men, the Globe’s investigation was a long and tedious process that required dogged persistence and more than a little ingenuity along the way. But Spotlight never stumbles or drags or, in fact, becomes anything less than supremely riveting filmmaking. Every victim interview, every lawyer meeting, and, heck, every phone call crackles with electricity and tension.
The stellar cast gives several of the year’s best performances, but Ruffalo’s performances rises above all of them, as he (by all accounts) channels Rezendes perfectly. I’ve only ever seen a photo of the reporter, but Ruffalo paints such an intricate portrait that I leave the theater feeling like I’ve known the guy for years.
From its thirty-years-earlier prologue straight through to the publication of one of 2002’s most important newspaper articles, Spotlight presents the whole disturbing story brilliantly. It’s a pitch-perfect, wonderfully understated slice of filmmaking perfection– and easily among the best of the year.