In 2001, the Spotlight investigative journalism team at the Boston Globe were tasked with uncovering more about a story; the claims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests. Although their readers may not like the outcome of their research, editor Marty Barron (Liev Schrieber) insists that there is story here, so Robby (Michael Keaton), Sacha (Rahcel McAdams), Mike (Mark Ruffalo) and Matt (Brian d’Arcy James) set out to uncover the truth about the case.
Directed by Tom ‘The Station Agent’ McCarthy, Spotlight is based on the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered almost 90 priests who had preyed on young children in Boston, and how the Church simply covered up the crimes, and moved the priests from parish to parish. Although the film is led by characters, these characters spend the entire 128 minutes of the film trying to find the story so while these journalists are people, they are not what the film is about; the story is.
That said, the cast of the film is standout, and they each bring tenacity and just a hint of characterisation to their roles; enough to make the audience root for them, but not enough to overwhelm the story. Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Brian d’Arcy James make up the Spotlight team, with Liev Schreiber and John Slattery joining in at the paper. Elsewhere, Stanley Tucci plays Mitchell Garabedian a suspicious but curious lawyer, and Billy Crudup plays a lawyer who has been dealing with the Catholic Church for some time.
Here in Ireland, we are all too aware of the abuses carried out by the Catholic Church in the past, but in framing the story of Spotlight through the newspaper, and not necessarily the survivors of abuse, screenwriters Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy approach what could be a familiar story in a new and exciting manner. As well as this, the dialogue is smart, sensitive and simple – but not patronisingly simple – and the survivors’ stories are treated with dignity and respect.
As director, Tom McCarthy keeps the film moving at a decent pace, and allows each of the Spotlight team to become emotionally involved with the story in their own way. Their small heartbreaks at the story almost being ignored, and the truths they learn about the institution’s abuse of power in keeping these stories in the dark and the survivors trapped in shame bring a human dimension to the story. That said, McCarthy never allows the story to become overly sentimental, since this is a film about battling through a labyrinth of secrets, lies and legal wrangling.
In all, Spotlight is a gripping procedural about secrets, lies and abuse – both sexual and of power. Tom McCarthy has done a rare thing and made a story about a story, where each of the lead actors get just a moment to shine. Compelling and essential storytelling.