Spotlight (2015)


This is a great movie.

Writer-Director Thomas McCarthy and his co-writer, Josh Singleton, dramatizing the investigative journalism in the early 2000s by the Spotlight team at The Boston Globe of the mass abuse by dozens of priests of children and youngsters in Massachusetts and beyond, and the cover-up by the Boston Archdiocese and ultimately the Church itself, have captured not only a lacerating reality of American history–here of the Old World rather intact in the New World–but, as if that weren’t enough, gone on to create a superb drama of the inevitable evil in institutions historically and globally and the saving sleuthing of, and exposure of, that ever-pending, ever-present deadly force of corruption in even the best of human organizations under the most flowing banners of enlightenment upon the highest parapets under the brightest skies.

The single most important way to see the sublimity of this grand cautionary tale is to pay your most intense attention from his first appearance through his few ensuing ones, to include especially his calm, declarative, utterly realistic words of wisdom, to the marvelous character, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), a handsome young Jewish newspaper editor who in the best tradition of the Rescue Story comes virtually from nowhere (literally, from a Miami paper in a place light years from Boston) to take the lead at The Boston Globe in that Catholic stronghold, marking a sharp change in every regard from the usual Editor-in-Chief at the Globe. As his name tells us, Baron is journalistic royalty.

I can’t think of many characters in filmdom to rival the literary power of Baron’s character. He is the Grand Unifier of Spotlight. He is one of those essentially literary heroes–impossibly wise beyond his years, quietly always strong, invincibly resolute even though guardedly fearful in the presence of the Dragon (here the menacing Cardinal Bernard Law in his sumptuous wood-paneled residence), an Arthurian figure who sees the evil that men invariably do, especially through their powerful institutions, and who understands far more directly and even more strikingly than does Ben Bradlee (superbly played by Jason Robards, Jr) in the wonderful All the President’s Men. The sum of Baron’s actions and words is a crucial wisdom about not only the hopefully (though of late, discouragingly diverted) vital role of the Fourth Estate among free peoples but about the whole matter of Muddling Through, the need for separation of powers, separation of Church and State, eternal vigilance, faith in the public, and the other such acts of enlightenment bright amidst the Dark Progress.

Apropos, Spotlight is an optimistic but wary movie, which is as it should be.

You leave it reassured and disillusioned.

And the good news about Spotlight continues. From beginning to end it seems an almost flawless movie storytelling. There are no weak performances in a large cast in which few characters have other than a vital role, a role in which to falter would not merely dispel the believability but would degrade a movie that works at the highest level of excellence.  One especially compelling performance is Stanley Tucci’s portrayal of attorney Mitchell Garabedian, tired from nobly battling alone in the pre-Baron Boston for the abused against The Powers That Be. Another is Billy Crudup’s perfect performance as attorney Eric MacLeish, a well-heeled smoothie from a prominent law firm (but who is not absent all conscience) who has made more than a few bucks pocketing large portions of modest hush money payments from the Archdiocese to those abused who might speak out, arrangements not in court but “private.” Spotlight team members–Mark Ruffalo (Michael Rezendez), Michael Keating (Walter Robinson), and Rachel McAdams (Sacha Pfeiffer)–notably stand out. And certain victims, together with a haunting hapless priest-molester living with his mother, turn in unforgettable performances.

All else in this remarkable thriller–scenes, dialog, camera work, pacing, tone–are superbly realistic and convincing.

Spotlight makes you regret that as the Digital Age sweeps on, newspapers like The Boston Globe are today, just a few years past the era depicted in this mandatory movie, not what they were. Baron’s Round Table isn’t as crowded.