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“Spotlight” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux

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One of the largest shakeups in the history of organized religion takes center stage in “Spotlight,” the 2001-2003 account of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists from the Boston Globe that uncovered the sex scandal that rocked the world. Director Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent,” “The Visitor”) crafts one of the most compelling portraits of a major publication that I have ever seen, with particular regard to its dedication to delivering a story against all odds.

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2001 was a year of transition for the Boston Globe. Its editor, Matthew Storin, was retiring and Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) from the Miami Herald was chosen to take the reins of the struggling newspaper. One of his first decisions: have the hard news team, known as “spotlight,” expand upon some of the sexual molestation scandals involving the Boston Archdiocese, that had been reported (and sometimes tossed aside) in the previous years. For “Spotlight” editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) and his team of reporters; Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), what begins as a burdensome assignment becomes an absolute crusade to uncover every aspect of the truth for not only their readers, but most importantly the thousands of victims that were sexually molested by Catholic priests, going back several decades.

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It’s apparent that a sinister secret of this nature will unleash rivers of opposition, and the team realizes firsthand that breaking this story won’t come easy. There’s trial lawyer Eric MacLeish (Billy Crudup) who settled victims’ cases with the church in the 1990’s, and is unwilling to comply with the investigation. Then there’s Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), a lower-profile attorney who’s hesitant to be bothered, but took the representation of the once-abused children a lot more seriously it seems. Don’t worry though, he gets pestered enough by lead reporter Rezendes that he virtually has no choice but to eventually become an ally. And these were guys that went after the archdiocese, so imagine the opposition from Cardinal Law (Len Cariou), who played a decades-long game of parochial musical chairs with abusive priests and has the Vatican backing him up! Still, as anyone knows the tenacity of a good journalist, imagine five of them investigating in unison, and even the most powerful church on Earth won’t stand a chance.

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What I loved so much about this film was its attention to detail and a meticulous rendering of a newsroom that is running on all cylinders. When Baron came on board, the “spotlight” team was working on a story about a local politician, and initially didn’t welcome the new assignment. However, when victims started coming forward and the pieces started unraveling, no one could tear them away from uncovering the truth. To give you an idea of how invested these journalists were, after the September 11 terrorist attacks upon our nation, the Globe’s staff (just like any other newspaper I’m sure) had no choice but to leave the story for a few months to focus on a nation that was grieving and about to enter a war. In contrast with their preliminary reaction to Baron’s original assignment, the “spotlight” team was now inconvenienced by being unable to follow-up on their leads until it was deemed okay to do so.

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Mark Ruffalo gives a dynamic performance as Michael Rezendes, the investigative heart and soul of the “spotlight” team. He spent long hours in the field, in law offices, in courthouses, not to mention the newsroom where he wrote the story that would ultimately win the Pulitzer Prize for public service. He shares some great scenes with Stanley Tucci, with their entertaining banter providing a comical relief of sorts for an otherwise very serious film. Likewise, Rachel McAdams gives one of her best roles yet. This smaller, more energetic character turn for her suits her acting style really well and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her receive an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.

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This is a truly magnificent film that never lagged for a moment under its 128-minute running time. McCarthy’s tight direction leaves no room for filler, as he thrusts us into a world where journalists eat, sleep and breathe a story and it’s actually a flattering depiction of the excitement that is created when truth ultimately reigns supreme. One thing that is certain, Michael Keaton is enjoying a career resurgence after his groundbreaking performance in last year’s “Birdman,” which nearly garnered him a best actor Oscar. While I don’t expect an nomination in that category for him this time around (although there might be one for Mark Ruffalo), I do think that there’s a very good chance “Spotlight” will be the second film in a row headlined by the veteran actor to win best picture at The Oscars.

**** (four out of four stars)

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