Spotlight reminds us why newspapers still matter

FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo


RPL Film Theatre
March 10-13
4 out of 5

Writer/director Tom McCarthy (The Visitor, Win Win) is in fighting form in Spotlight, a dramatization of The Boston Globe’s 2001 coverage of the Catholic Church’s systematic cover-up of child molestation. The film made a splash at the Oscars, surprising with a Best Picture win. It’s rare the Academy chooses gravitas over glitz, but they sure did this year.

An ensemble piece that follows the All the President’s Men model, Spotlight focuses on the journalists and editors that exposed the Boston Archdiocese’s practices when dealing with pedophile priests, as opposed to tackling individual cases. It also highlights the necessity of investigative and long-form journalism, an endangered species in the era of infotainment and Buzzfeed.

Spotlight features a highly competent and likeable cast, including Michael Keaton (who is curiously good at playing journalists), Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams and a twitchy Mark Ruffalo, the only one to get a look-at-me moment. Everybody else exercises restraint.

Despite being an ensemble film, each character gets its own dramatic arc, simple and poignant: McAdams must break the news about the church covering for deviants to her devout grandmother; another colleague (Brian d’Arcy James, Something Rotten!) discovers a shelter for pedophile priests just around the corner from his home. Few films care as much for texture.

There’s certain coldness to Spotlight that may turn off some folks. I found it refreshing. The film doesn’t revel in the victims’ pain. All the emotion comes from watching the crack journalistic team at work, from the top echelon to the foot soldiers. Equally remarkable is the way the newsroom is portrayed, warts and all.

A greater accomplishment is to give an entire city personality. Through the many faces of the case we get a full picture of Boston at war with itself. The movie constantly reminds us it was outsiders (the newly minted Boston Globe editor-in-chief and a lawyer of Armenian descent) who pulled back the curtain, as the residents —  including most of the journos — treated the rumors about the Church like white noise.

An aspect Spotlight comes up short in is the cinematography, courtesy of the otherwise reliable shooter Masanobu Takayanagi (The Grey, Black Mass). Flat like a Lifetime movie-of-the-week, it doesn’t add much to the proceedings and it makes the whole endeavor feel like homework. Heck, even the poster looks tedious.

I spent six years of my life writing for a daily newspaper. It wasn’t glamorous; the level of stress and frustration was high, yet the work had intrinsic value. Spotlight captures the atmosphere and nobility of an industry struggling to stay alive — and reminds us why it still matters.