MFF Review: ‘Spotlight’ is a Sharp Piece of Investigative Drama

The greatest film ever made about newspaper reporting might be All the Presidents Men (1976), the superb, brooding study of how two reporters blew open Watergate and brought down the American President. Brilliantly written by William Goldman, adapted from the best seller, and directed with genius by Alan J. Pakula, the film was easily the best film of 1976, and won four Academy Awards, sadly not Best Film or Best Director. Twenty one years later came Zodiac (2007) another stunning film that merged crime with reporting in its study of the hunt for a serial killer who terrorized San Francisco in the early seventies.

Now we have ‘Spotlight’, which is among the very best films of the year, a smart and tight study of how a group of reporters brought down a faction of the Catholic Church in Boston in their investigation of reports of child abuse. Directed and written by Tom McCarthy, the film is a knockout, a superb ensemble of actors brings the story to vivid life with dignity rarely seen in such films, leap frogging into the top spot for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) the new owner of the Boston Globe challenges a group of reporters to look into a case that has come to his attention. A decent man with a good soul, Baron wants to do what is right with his paper and fight for the common man seeking justice. In this case there have been many allegations of child abuse made against a local Catholic Church and its priests, who are then sent off to other churches, which does not fix the problem, or bring them to justice, but merely sends them to do the same thing somewhere else. As they delve into the history of the allegations and rumors, they discover that the issues are decades old and that abuse has been going on for many years. And the Church continues to deny, to deny, and cover up.

The group of reporters are led by Robby (Michael Keaton), who will stop at nothing to get the information he needs to bring down the Church, but he does not do so with malice, just a sense of doing what is right, and for the story, which is like a drug for this group. Michael (Mark Ruffalo) is a smooth talking reporter who seems able to talk himself into any situation and get what he wants, and Rachel McAdams is Sacha. They are sensational in the film and the trick will be finding a place for all of them come Oscar time as there is no award for ensemble.

McCarthy directs the film with an uncanny precision with nothing exploitive or sensational about the subject matter; it is just another story to him and he presents it matter of factly. It would be easy for the director-writer to make this about bringing down the Church, but he chooses to go in a different direction which works perfectly for the film in every way. Overall, ‘Spotlight’ is a sharp and precise ensemble drama that goes about methodically — not very different from the characters of the film itself — turning one page of investigation after another and ultimately reaching a satisfying conclusion. There are no big explosive dramatic revelations, but the film didn’t set out to do that in the first place. It’s to the point and doesn’t digress. Very few films can actually sincerely claim to achieve that. ‘Spotlight’ can. And that’s why it’s brilliant.

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