With Spotlight, Tom McCarthy Has Made a Triumph About a Tragedy


Mark Ruffalo does a lot of running in Spotlight. His character, Mike Rezendes, is the kind of whippersnapper of a journalist you used to see in movies about journalists back when people made more movies about journalists, and the story he’s working on often requires him to get from point A (usually the courthouse) to point B (usually his office) in a snap. But Rezendes is the only thing about Spotlight that’s in a hurry. This is a movie that manages to leave its audience breathless without ever overexerting itself.

The story that Rezendes and the rest of his Spotlight team (played by Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James) are working on is, to put it lightly, a big one. After noticing the Globe had covered allegations of abuse in the Catholic church in the past, but generally buried the stories in the metro section, its new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), assigns Spotlight to write something more substantial. Something that will shake the church—and its members—to the core and cause actual change.

But that, as you probably guessed, is easier said than done. This is Boston, after all, where everyone’s either Catholic, used to be Catholic, or lives across the street from a Catholic church. And though the team hears from victims quickly enough, they have to go through a host of Boston’s most powerful and tight-lipped people to uncover the cover-up. There’s the sleazy lawyer played by Billy Crudup (perfectly cast) who knows more than he’s letting on, the compassionate lawyer played by Stanley Tucci (also perfectly cast), and countless members of the church who are willing to whatever it takes to prevent the truth from coming out.

This is a bleak story—and one that will probably cause you to go home and read (or re-read) the entire report on which it’s based—but, as a movie, it’s essential viewing. Not just because of what it’s about (which would be more than enough), but because of, to quote Roger Ebert, how it’s about it. Spotlight’s wonderful performances are as electrifying as they are quiet, and its writer/director, Tom McCarthy, refuses to overdramatize facts that are already compelling enough.

With Spotlight, McCarthy and his cast have pulled off something that ought to be impossible in 2015. They’ve made an important, unforgettable thriller…about a newspaper. And its finale is as devastating as it is not because it sneaks up on you, but because it’s been right there the whole time.

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Image via Open Road Films.

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