And now we get to the last best picture nominee, and the only film that could steal the Best Picture nominee from The Revenant. Based on a true story, Spotlight is a compelling journalistic drama about the team of journalists who helped expose the Catholic Church’s cover up of priests molesting children. Warning: this film will make you angry.
The title refers to the Spotlight team, a small group of journalists who work on the investigative articles. Led by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), this small team spends months investigating specific subjects for the Boston Globe. New editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) assigns them to investigate a story of a Priest accused of molesting children from place to place. Joined by fellow Spotlight investigators Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), Robinson go into this assignment expecting an article about one priest being moved from place to place. That is until prosecuting attorney Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) accuses Cardinal Law of knowing and covering up for the priest. Soon they find out there’s more than one priest they’re covering up. What begins as a simple assignment becomes months of investigations to know the full extension of the cover up.
Cowriter-Director Tom McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer demonstrates the difficulties investigative journalists go through trying to seek the truth. They meet with resistance from victims who don’t want recall their trauma. Key government documents are hidden from them. Even a government tries to dissuade Robby from going further. As the number of priests rises more and more, the more evidence they need to acquire.
This team won’t give up, knowing the truth must be told. Each character contributes in his/her own way, from Robby mingling with government officials to Pfeiffer’s endurance listening to traumatic stories. Ruffalo’s performance stands out the most. Underneath his timid and socially awkward appearance lies relentless determination. Here’s a guy willing to sleep on a bench all night to get government information. He also serves as the film’s moral compass, always bringing out the human cost of this cover-up.
Despite the excellent performances, Director McCarthy makes sure the true star of the film is the story itself. With the film opening in the 70’s, we realize how long these cover ups occurred. When one of the team interviews a victim, the film pays attention to his/her ordeal, traumatic in its own way. In one heartbreaking interview, one man talks about how he realized he was gay while being molested by a priest. Each document reveals how big the cover up goes and how high up it is. Not only is the church responsible, but the police, the government and even journalists are held accountable for their indifference. This all hits close to home when Carroll realizes a guilty priest is living next door.
Spotlight plays a lot like a crime thriller. Even those who already know how it ends sit in anticipation for the outcome. No matter how much you hear this, the revelations still surprising. I would say it’s because it’s unbelievable this happened for so long. With articulate directing, a powerful script and great performances, this film is a tribute to the journalists who sacrificed months of their lives to gather evidence, give victims an empathetic ear and expose this horrifying crime against children.