directed by Thomas McCarthy
(Open Road Films, 2015)

In 2001, newly hired Boston Globe editor-in-chief Marty Barton (Liev Schreiber) asks his team of investigative reporters -- Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sasha Pfieffer (Rachel McAdams), Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James) and Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery) -- to investigate a story by fellow columnist Eileen McNamara about sexual abuse allegations against Father John Geoghan, a Catholic priest, against a minor. The team, named Spotlight for the level of investigative reporting they put into their stories, uncovers evidence that the Catholic Church has been covering up decades of child abuse. Instead of removing the accused priests, the church simply moved them around from place to place, effectively allowing them to widen their pool of victims.

Spotlight is not by any means easy to watch. Or remain neutral about, given the innocence and breathtaking, appallingly high number of victims who were assaulted by those they had come to regard, with the utmost trust, as messengers of God. While somber, Spotlight is also a solid newspaper investigation story. Although the drama consists of actors whose main activity is dialogue, looking through files and knocking on doors, the story is easy enough to follow. The material is handled with grace, the tension building slowly via outlining in painful detail the difficulty of investigative journalism.

Lightly armed and completely outnumbered, four reporters undertake the gigantic task of unmasking an organization whose power stretches back over a thousand years. Every actor delivers strong performances, with Ruffalo's dogged workaholic reporter standing out along with Schreiber's great turn as editor-in-chief.

It is the role of investigative journalism in uncovering the truth that is the main character of the story. Spotlight is a chronicle of tenacious digging and doggedly cutting past red tape to uncover injustice on an intolerable scale. It's a wrong exposed by a group of actual people, each with their own lives, responsibilities and problems.

McCarthy's strict adherence to a naturalistic narrative results in a story that is as clear-sighted as it is authentic. The methodical collection of information is neatly balanced against the painful realities of the victims. The cinematography is fantastic, with long, slow tracking shots that metaphorically describe the pathways between the reporters and the establishment as they are working their way, literally, through tunnels of information. Supported by Oscar-nominated editing and excellent pacing that keeps up the suspense through a complicated story, Spotlight has a lifelike feel. While concentration is sometimes needed to absorb all the facts, overall the film is a great watch.

review by
Mary Harvey

4 June 2016

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