Review: Spotlight – Catholic controversy uncovered

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SpotlightThe world knows about the Catholic Church’s child abuse scandal and the organization’s long time efforts to keep it a secret. The new film, Spotlight, shines a light on the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize winning investigation that led to uncovering the Church’s disgraceful actions; but can a film about journalists researching a news story still be intriguing, even after we already know the headline?

When it comes to the true news story film genre (which includes movies like All the President’s Men, Zodiac, and The Insider), Spotlight is a mixed bag of good and bad. It has some fine acting and it does a great job of making the case for saving newspapers and their investigative journalism components from becoming extinct; but watching the news-sausage making minutia of this particular story was somewhat sleep-inducing – and the film’s droning, monotone score by Howard Shore didn’t help to keep my eyes open.

Spotlight tells the behind-the-scenes story of the Boston Globe’s special “Spotlight” team of investigative reporters and their efforts to expose child abuse incidents by Boston area priests and the cover-up by the church hierarchy.

The Spotlight investigators include Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), who is dedicated to a fault but somewhat of a loose cannon; Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), who is afraid of what the abuse controversy will mean to her church-going grandmother; and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), who actually lives next to one of the church homes under investigation and who fears for the kids in his neighborhood. They are led by their editor, Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton), who has top-tier connections to politicians and lawyers directly involved in the abuse cover-up.

SpotlightThe film also stars Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron, the new Globe editor who spurs the Spotlight team into looking at the abuse scandal that has been right under their noses for decades, but has been largely ignored by everyone at the paper. John Slattery plays Ben Bradlee Jr., Walter Robinson’s boss and yet another editor involved with the story.

The standout performances in this ensemble cast are by Schreiber and Ruffalo, with Schreiber, almost unrecognizable and against type, doing an excellent job as a Boston outsider who sees the obvious and tries to guide his people past substantial obstacles. Ruffalo also does a wonderful job losing himself in the quirky character of the reporter, Mike Rezendes.

On the other hand, Brian d’Arcy James and Rachel McAdams are mostly bland and uninteresting, which is not to blame the actors or their significant talent; there is simply no spark written into their characters by director/writer Tom McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer.

I found Keaton’s performance to be middle of the road and I would have liked to see him have more of opportunity to standout, especially after his award-winning performance in last year’s Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

SpotlightThe film also stars Billy Crudup (Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen) and Jamey Sheridan (Robert Queen from the Arrow TV series) as slimy lawyers who have profited from the abuse cases; and Stanley Tucci as a lawyer on the good side, trying to help expose the church atrocities.

Spotlight’s narrative gets lost in many of its own details and a warning: some of those details are graphic and unsettling. Despite several flaws, this movie does make you think about the underlying evil within our society, from large businesses to cities and organized religions, on up to the highest offices in the land. If THIS is out there, what other unspeakable things are covered in a veil of political deceit. Maybe we don’t want to know.

If you are a fan of newspaper dramas, this one is definitely worth watching; but you might consider some caffeine intake before the lights go out. This is a good movie, but it doesn’t shine as brightly as it could have. Grade: 7.5/10

Photos © 2015 Open Road Films

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.