Directed by Tom McCarthy.
Starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel MacAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Stanley Tucci. 128 mins.
Hollywood movies are all about the bright side, so although this is about how the Roman Catholic Church systematically covered up pedophile priests, the main thrust of the film is to celebrate the spirit of investigative journalism that exposed it. Spotlight is a newspaper movie, which is one of the rarest genres there is; possibly because beyond All The President's Men, the drop off in quality is really steep.
These days the idea of unimpeachable journalists hunting down stories and being encouraged to expose the corrupt and the powerful seems too much of a fantasy even for Hollywood. McCarthy's film takes us back to 2001 when the Boston Globe had a specialist four-man team of investigative journalists, called Spotlight, so highly valued and generously funded that they could spend a couple of months looking into a story just to see if it was worth researching properly. When a new editor arrives (Schreiber) he sets the Spotlight team on following up on the case of a single pedophile priest and once they start the case just grows and grows.
The film feels like it has been made with the same rigorous journalistic standards. Unlike most Based on a True Story films most of this does seem to be believable. McCarthy keeps everything low key, there's an almost hushed air to it. The script rattles off names and legalese at you, tries to do the minimum of spoon feeding and trusts you to keep up. The plot also slips in a very subtle, and very cunning bit of misdirection.
This is quite a comeback for McCarthy, an actor whose directing career got off to a flying start with The Station Agent and The Visitor but had lost its way: his last film was an Adam Sandler comedy that didn't even get into cinemas. He is known as an actors directors, drawing out career defining performances from Richard Jenkins and Peter Dinklage. Here he has the best cast he's ever had, one of the best casts of any film this year. But journalist roles are tough on actors. All they get to do is answer phones/ take notes/ read/ file/ walk down corridors or across news rooms/ drink coffee. The best performances are the ones that accept the limitations. Liev Schreiber is largely inert playing the new editor but he is probably the best thing in the film. As the most passionate of the Spotlight team Ruffalo seems to spend the whole film with his head cocked to one side and his face mushed up in a Popeye grimace. He wants to give us his performance but it isn't needed. Just stick to the facts.