Starring Michael Keaton. Rated 14A.
In 2002, the Boston Globe revealed that a mammoth and continuing child-sex-abuse scandal was covered up at the highest levels of the city’s Catholic archdiocese. Spotlight harks back to paranoid ’70s thrillers in its attempt to tell the story, with wintry visuals straight out of Alan J. (All the President’s Men) Pakula’s playbook and the kind of spare and beautifully loaded dialogue—courtesy of Josh Singer and director Tom McCarthy—that Robert Towne used to specialize in.
If the idea here is to make grown-up viewers feel smart and maybe a little righteous, then Spotlight succeeds in spades. Singer and McCarthy are grieving the loss of good reporting as much as anything, without ignoring that the fifth estate is always negotiating its own level of compromise, even in the relatively robust era, prior to 9/11, when the Spotlight team first started to pull on a thread that led all the way to the silky hem of Boston‘s Cardinal Bernard Francis Law (ruddy Len Cariou, appropriately smug).
As Globe editors Walter Robinson and Ben Bradlee Jr., it falls to Michael Keaton and John Slattery, respectively, to embody both the virtues and the sins of the press, with a cleverly plotted reveal that brings even finer shades of grey to a picture already drained of contrast. Rachel McAdams, Brian D’Arcy James, and Mark Ruffalo are left to pound the pavement and do the hard work as the team’s grunts, with Ruffalo especially in his element, furiously chewing his face off as the unhealthily driven pitbull, Mike Rezendes.
It took Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), an outsider (and a Jew) shipped in from out-of-state as the Globe’s new chief editor to persuade the Spotlight team to take on the community’s most untouchable institution. Baron's challenge to his reporters—“Show me that it’s systemic”—is what we need to remember as the lights go up on this neatly accomplished movie.