Synopsis: The Boston Globe’s investigative journalists uncover widespread child molestation by Catholic priests and prove Church leaders were aware of the ongoing crimes.
Spotlight is about a newspaper investigation and not, as the title suggests, an account of a local theater troupe. Director and co-screenwriter (with Josh Singer) Tom McCarthy follows The Boston Globe‘s investigation of decades of child molestation committed by Boston priests and the Church hierarchy’s cover-up until the reporters drag the crimes into the cold light of day for all of Boston–and the world– to see.
The movie manages to be sensitive and suspenseful, while the cast brings depth to these real life heroes searching for truth and justice. Owing to its subject matter, Spotlight is almost mock-proof. However, there is comic relief of a sort; I found myself contemplating earlier standard-issue roles of the cast members…
Mark Ruffalo was made for important films like The Kids Are All Right and You Can Count on Me. So icky when he chases down magician bank robbers in Now You See It or romances Jennifer Garner’s feckless character in 13 Going On 30. I concede that he makes a fantastic Hulk, but he’s so much more compelling here as a driven, fidgety journalist. He literally runs to get the story- or at least get copies of relevant legal documents. I’ve never seen the Hulk do anything as impressive as filing these essential stories. Although I would like to see HULK SMASH those child molesters. Ruffalo, I know that you are a righteous hippie and if I met you, I’d say: Namaste. Keep up the good work.
Ok, Michael Keaton, you’ve had a long, strange career path. The motley assortment of roles include: Betelgeuse (Beetle Juice), Batman (Batman), Jack Frost (Jack Frost), the President of the United States (First Daughter) and Birdman (Birdman). I can imagine agents and studio execs discussing him in the 80’s: He’s got a Jack Nicholson vibe. Let’s use that in lame roles…He’s funny. Let’s cast him in stuff that Tom Hanks passes on. Thankfully his days of playing wild eyed creeps seems to be in the past.
For once, Rachel McAdams gets to play a part that has nothing to do with her beauty. In The Notebook, Ryan Gosling and James Marsden compete for her hand in marriage…Jake Gyllenhaal can’t forget her in Southpaw… she’s Owen Wilson’s perfectly awful but pretty fiancee in Midnight in Paris…and cute ginger, Domhnall Gleeson, falls head over heels for her in About Time. Her characters’ essential trait? Prettiness! In Spotlight she conveys intelligence, fortitude and decency. Nothing has anything to do with her looks. But… I guess I did find it a little unbelievable that no one ever stopped her in the middle of her interviews and asked, Has anyone ever told you that you’re really pretty? And she would respond, Duh, yes! And continue with her ace reporting.
But finally, the actor whom I am most pleased to see displaying his impressive acting chops is Stanley Tucci. Good for him that he works a lot but how many times do we have to see him as the fussy, fashion forward friend to a gal in need? Nigel, gay friend and advisor to Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada; Sean, bi friend to Christina Aguilera and Cher in the ridiculous Burlesque and Caesar, frenemy to Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games. Mr. Tucci’s grand turn in Spotlight is a real palate cleanser. There is a scene in which his character,a brusque and jaded attorney who represents molestation victims, is concluding a discussion with Ruffalo at his law office. He ducks into an adjoining room to meet with the mother of his new clients, a young brother and sister. They sit and color while their distraught mom looks on… it’s just a moment, but when he opens the door and greets the children in a relaxed and gentle tone, he demonstrates more compassion in that moment than any of the guilty priests in their long, predatory lives.
Ha! Ha! A barrel of laughs, right? Well, not exactly. But it is cheering to root for good actors in roles grounded in reality. And especially, to cheer on all of the survivors of these crimes and the people who fought for justice at The Boston Globe and in the legal system.
Addendum: Kudos to Liev Schreiber* as the paper’s editor. He plays the long game, patiently and coolly amassing the facts until the story is ready for publication.
* Sabretooth in X-Men and (lol!) LBJ in Lee Daniels’ The Butler.