Movie Review: 'Spotlight' a Solid, if Unspectacular, Best Pic Winner

Movie Review: 'Spotlight' a Solid, if Unspectacular, Best Pic Winner

It opened to rave reviews on the festival circuit last fall and won the Oscar for Best Picture six weeks ago. Now, finally, audiences in the Czech Republic can catch Spotlight on the big screen.

The “Spotlight” team was a small group of investigative journalists who wrote for the Boston Globe, an autonomous bunch who chose their stories and explored them in such depth that they might take months (years?) to break.

In the film, they’re played by Michael Keaton (as team leader Walter “Robby” Robinson), Mark Ruffalo (as the impassioned Michael Rezendes), Rachel McAdams (Sacha Pfeiffer) and Brian d’Arcy James (Matt Carroll.

In 2001, the Globe hires a new editor, Marty Baron (Live Schrieber), who convinces the Spotlight team to investigate allegations that have been kicking around for years but have never been fully substantiated: the abuse of children by Catholic priests, and subsequent cover-up by church officials.

It’s a story most audiences will be familiar with on some level: while similar allegations had been floating for decades, the Spotlight team was the first to uncover the systematic cover-up by the Catholic Church that led to hundreds of cases being uncovered in cities across the globe.

There were hundreds of cases of abuse in Boston alone. But they fell on deaf ears for so many years, perhaps because the primarily Catholic city didn’t want to know about it, or because the allegations were not on the news radar for one reason or another.

One of the hardest-hitting moments in spotlight is when Keaton’s Robinson reveals that key facts had come across his desk before, but he couldn’t even remember passing on the story; he ignored it not out of malfeasance, but because it registered so little with him that he didn’t even commit it memory.

The cast here is first-rate; Keaton and (especially) Ruffalo bring a lot depth to characters who don’t get a whole lot of backstory in this ensemble production. Besides the team at the Boston Globe, which also includes Mad Men’s John Slattery, key players in uncovering the scandal include lawyers played by Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup.

Director Tom McCarthy previously made The Station AgentThe Visitor, and Win Win, but his previous movie to this was the sleep-inducing Adam Sandler misfire The Cobbler; the difference between the two films is night and day.

Here’s the one and only issue I have with Spotlight, and it’s an issue with any film that uses this narrative device: the story of the story – here, the story of the journalists uncovering the abuse scandal – is inevitably less interesting than the story itself. As important as the Spotlight team’s story was (and is), it’s inherently less compelling than the actual story of the abuse and cover-ups.

There is exactly one film where this narrative works without fault: All the President’s Men, which detailed the investigation of the Watergate scandal by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. And it worked because the actual details of the Watergate scandal were pretty dull, and yet the shadowy investigation by the reporters was downright fascinating (years later, we all know who Deep Throat is, yet few can tell you what went down at the Watergate Hotel.)

Still, the story of the Spotlight team is an important one in its own right, even if it is overshadowed by the story they uncovered. This film is a standout production in almost regard, even if it’s an unexciting pick from the Academy for 2015’s Best Picture.  

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