Spotlight (****1/2) takes the road less travelled

spotlight-2015

Spotlight – 2015

Director Tom McCarthy
Screenplay by McCarthy and Josh Singer
Starring  Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Len Cariou, Jamey Sheridan, Paul Guilfoyle, Brian d’Arcy James, Billy Crudup

In 2001, Marty Baron (Schreiber) is the new editor of the The Boston Globe. His perspective is that of an outsider and being so, he is not shrouded under the veil of the Catholic church in its U.S. stronghold. As he introduces himself to his new team, he reveals his desire for the Spotlight news team to turn its focus on the 84 suits against the church for the obstruction of justice in regards to molestation cases over many years. One lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian (Tucci) believes that Archbishop Cardinal Law (Cariou) has been aware of the abuse and has done nothing to prevent it. The team takes several avenues to pursue answers. They find that they are onto something big.

There is a subtlety that is present in this take of the media’s search for truth that rarely makes it into stories of this kind. The newspaper industry is well on its way to fading into obscurity and the resources are becoming more and more scarce. The Globe is one of the few remaining enterprises, but cuts are on there way. Still there is a curiosity that being part of an investigative journalist that the actors handle in a genuine, but not heavy handed way. Ruffalo, Keaton, James and McAdams drive the ship from different but equally interesting ways. All the reporters are lapsed Catholics, but they don’t carry a grudge. Instead they have a new religion in the pursuit of journalistic truth. Spotlight is a love letter to the press, but it is a well made one.

One problem that drama in real life films have is they usually cast the same supporting actors as bureaucratic roadblocks. Spotlight is no exception with Cariou, Sheridan and Guilfoyle. It gives a feeling of sameness that takes away from the genuinely interesting finds and dramatic moments that come up through good hard work. It helps to have Billy Crudup as a lawyer with ambiguous intent to shake things up a bit.

Another problem with dramas based in Boston since Mystic River has been the repeated portrayal of Boston folk as overprotective and proudly ignorant. There is a little of that Boston politic at work here, but a lot less than any film starring an Affleck or a Wahlberg.

To give full disclosure, I am Roman Catholic and I am at peace with the truth that like any institution of men, there are many flaws. Amazingly, Richard Jenkins as Richard Sipe presents the same perspective. His ex-priest gives a “Deepthroat” angle that pushes the story into exceptionally dramatic proportions. It’s the organization that is crooked, not the faith.

Look, I’m not crazy, I’m not paranoid. I’m experienced. Check the docket. You’ll see. They control everything.

As ensemble dramas go, this one is remarkably smooth. There is only one incident of the nausea inducing grandstanding that make these types of films feel so long. All of the actors are experts at downplaying their big moments to make them more accessible. Keaton, Tucci, Slattery and Schreiber are especially good. Most impressive among the lesser known actors is veteran theater actor Bryan D’arcy James who has a significant role within the Spotlight team.

When watching how this story unfolds, it makes one wonder. How have things changed in the Roman Catholic Church? So many people have been affected by this, but the Church seems to be making steps to acknowledge their sins and seeking correction and forgiveness. The light of truth that they needed in this case will likely be needed in the future too. Every group that holds power holds the possibility of corruption.

What is going to happen to the newspaper industry?  It’s compelling to see that in the midst of the coverage of the story, the Globe’s staff acknowledge that they had all of the pieces all along but never pieced it together before now. The case for organized news gathering has been so powerfully made. If there is a way to keep newspapers going, this should help in the effort.

McCarthy and Singer have created a near masterpiece out of what could have been a self-aggrandizing pile of schmaltz. Like its subject, this film is not perfect, but it aspires to be greater.

(****1/2 out of *****)

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