Thomas McCarthy’s Spotlight is a low-key, character driven study of The Boston Globe’s investigation of the Catholic Church’s cover-up and continuation of priests sexually abusing children. McCarthy has always focused on complex, ambiguously motivated characters that have an immediate appeal for an audience in his earlier The Station Agent (2003), The Visitor (2008), and Win/Win (2011). He continues that in this current screenplay collaboration with Josh Singer, but broadens his approach. Three institutions meant to uphold the safety and ideals of Boston’s citizens have a proverbial dog in the fight that is this cover-up: the Catholic Church, the legal establishment, and the press.
|The Spotlight Team|
Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James portray the Spotlight team members whose continual legwork for over a year proved that the cover-up had gone on for decades. They are perfect audience stand ins because they are articulate, middle-class, and hard-working. The Globe team was determined to get the story completely right before publishing, but also trying to scoop The Boston Phoenix. However, as the story progresses, and where Spotlight goes one step further than All The President’s Men (1976) is when one of the major characters realizes his guilt in the whole affair. There are shades of Oedipus Rex in that scene and it’s probably the emotional climax of the movie.
While I think it is a very well made and thought-provoking movie, I don’t think it’s ‘the best of the year’ as many other reviewers have opined. It’s certainly a step up from the Ron Howard directed The Paper (1994) that also featured Michael Keaton with a plot that went all over the place and a cacophonous tone that swung wildly between sitcom slapstick and investigative melodrama. There are a number of
extraordinary scenes including one where McAdams’ character finds herself suddenly interviewing a frighteningly childlike defrocked priest and anything involving Billy Crudup. He’s one of those actors who hasn’t become the star I expected after giving major performances in Without Limits (1998), Almost Famous (2000), and Stage Beauty (2003). In this smaller role as an ambivalent and easy to misunderstand lawyer, the mask he has to maintain is almost as tragic as the fate that befell so many children because the powerful and the competent actively turned a blind eye.