Movie Review: "Spotlight"

Four men and one woman in office attire sit around an office deck covered in papers. Over the scene of the crowded desk are the words "Spotlight." Individual closeups of the five people around the office desk are in a line across the top of the movie poster.
Always seek the truth.

I was thinking the other day that it will be awards season for the movies before I know it, so it is time to shine a spotlight on one of the most important films of the last 20 years: Spotlight.

A non-negotiable element of a great movie is establishing the story's tone, for it prepares the audience for what will unfold in the plot. Spotlight establishes a sense of urgency, which submerges us into the disturbing, well-kept secrets about sexual abuse in the Catholic diocese of the Boston area. A group of editors and reporters for The Boston Globe, known as Spotlight, learn how pervasive these scandals are when journalist Marty Baron, played by Liev Schreiber, addresses how the public needs to know about this ongoing problem, even if it means that they are technically suing the Catholic Church.

Thus, Spotlight begins its rigorous investigation to unveil as many details and statistics as possible about these scandals that have been occurring for several decades. The core members of Spotlight are the leader of the pack Walter Robinson, played by Michael Keaton; the incessant Mike Rezendes, played by Mark Ruffalo; the dependable Sacha Pfeiffer, played by Rachel McAdams; and the family man Matt Caroll, played by Brian d'Arcy James

Both the writing and the acting unquestionably personify investigative journalism. The whole cast understands the motives of each character. They appear comfortable and knowledgeable about their environment. Each personality differentiates the reporting style of each individual writer, which allows us to connect with the characters at a personal level, not just to view them as tools for basic reporting and writing. 

The credibility of this movie's performances is founded in Boston's history. Michael Keaton appears calm but focused, giving a spot-on portrayal of Walter Robinson's Boston accent without overdoing tone or drawl. However, he is not the only actor to give an accurate performance. Mark Ruffalo uses Mike Rezendes' uptightness as a strength, emphasizing how he is the most committed member of Spotlight and their meticulous investigations. Ruffalo easily displays the most frantic energy out of the entire cast. Reality defines who Spotlight is, not the deceptive convention of going through the motions. Ruffalo was even nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, but he lost to Mark Rylance who won the coveted golden statue for Bridge of Spies.

Social media dominates everybody's menus of communication in today's culture. Spotlight poses the challenge to not only appreciate but also understand how critical investigative journalism works, especially nowadays in a society that is rapidly, or even perpetually, adjusting to social media's latest advancements. The film's urgency is amplified due to the minimal use of varied camera angles and shots. This technical choice stresses how determined The Boston Globe is at reporting the unspoken truths that happen at an institution as scared as a church. A climactic movement shows the reporters gathered around a desk while learning about the alarmingly high number of sexual abuses occurring. The camera slowly zooms out, and the reporters' voices become muffled. This scene's setup is pivotal, indicating how critical and even universal their investigation into these cover-ups made by the Catholic Archdiocese is. 

The stress of a reporter is felt through every uncomfortable interview with the victims and how much time is dedicated to finding as many documents, or court cases, as possible. For instance, Mike Rezendes rushes into courthouses just minutes before closing time to obtain more evidence from previous cases. Sacha Pfeiffer goes door-to-door for interviews with more victims. The dedication of Spotlight's four members also makes this movie inspirational, because they not only want the Boston area to know about these scandals, but, more importantly, they want the rest of society to be more alert about this ongoing corruption.

All the magnitude of Spotlight's research grows as they realize how prevalent child molestation is and how the Catholic Church has managed to cover up an alarming number of scandals. Journalists have been nicknamed watchdogs, and Spotlight stresses that persona convincingly. I could feel the weight of how much time and commitment are required to report the truth that has been buried, manipulated, or even forgotten. Spotlight is the All the President's Men for this era of cinema. This film also won two Oscars: Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture of the Year.

Investigative journalism will never die, no matter how much we allow social media to represent our lives. Spotlight is a testament to this truth.

Spotlight is available to borrow on DVD from the Jefferson County Library Cooperative, including all 16 active Birmingham Public Library locations.

By William Anthony | Librarian Ⅰ, Citizen Services