Following the premiere of 1976’s “All the President’s Men,” Hollywood has been in a journalism slump, unable to live up to the success of the revolutionary Watergate investigation film. Excluding the gravitas and grandeur of 2004’s “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” this void has been left desperately unfilled; until now.
Tom McCarthy, screenwriter of the Pixar film, “Up” and writer-director of indie darlings, “Win Win” and “The Station Agent” has crafted a magnificent film focusing on The Boston Globe’s investigative spotlight team. Focused on unraveling the sexual abuse permeating communities in Boston in which the Catholic Church was embroiled, “Spotlight” brilliantly captures the reality of a newsroom’s everyday bustle through the lens of a compelling and crucial narrative.
Liev Schreiber plays a new editor-in-chief at the Globe, and, as a Jewish Floridian, is viewed as an outsider to Boston’s closely-knit Catholic community. Unperturbed by these perceptions, he suggests the spotlight team tackle a controversial story on Roman Catholic priests molesting young children, and after thorough interviews and digging, they discover church officials and lawyers are systematically turning the other cheek. The team’s investigation provides the framework for the film’s plot.
McCarthy is a force to be reckoned with as he and his screenwriting partner Josh Singer have penned a screenplay that captures an Aaron Sorkin level of dynamic excitement without the unrealistic drama that usually follows. The dialogue is vigorous and tonally urgent, transporting viewers to the front lines of the newsroom, while maintaining authenticity. Herein lies the magic of “Spotlight:” there’s no artificial drama – the tension is simply created through excellent camerawork, phenomenal acting, and Howard Shore’s stirring score, all aided by the screenwriting team’s top-notch script.
Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton): “I wanna keep digging.”
Michael Keaton plays Walter Robinson, head of the spotlight team and is joined by reporters played by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian D’Arcy James. Each actor is equally excellent. Keaton and Ruffalo are not doing anything out of their comfort zone, portraying competent, impassioned, and layered characters (but it is a pleasant return to realism for Keaton following his absurdly exceptional performance in last year’s “Birdman.”) However, McAdams, a frequently dumbed-down, rom-com actress, and D’Arcy James, a Tony-winning Broadway singer known for portraying Shrek in the eponymous musical, both play realistic and intelligent characters, uncommon for these two actors. This casting risk easily pays off, making for a rock-solid team of supporting players.
There’s nothing cheap about “Spotlight.” No lines are wasted, no moments intensified, and no events aggrandized. There’s something to be said about taking a captivating-but-not-earth-shattering true event and turning it into a superb film. “Spotlight” succeeds not only in the richness of its source material, but also in the dignity the filmmaking team assigns to their fascinating subject.