It’s possible that veteran newspapermen and women will appreciate “Spotlight” more than an average viewer might, but, really, it’s a fascinating and frighteningly relevant story of big city journalism for everyone.
It may even be the best newspaper movie since “All the President’s Men,” although its conspiracy story cuts deeper — molested children rather than crooked politicians — and its villain (the Catholic Church) more dangerous.
The title refers to a team of Boston Globe investigative reporters given time and resources to dig deep into big, far-reaching stories. (The team on which “Spotlight” is based won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for its coverage of the story.)
Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) and editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) report to deputy managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery). When a new editor-in-chief Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) arrives in 2001, he quietly puts the them on the story of Boston priests molesting young boys.
They begin interviewing sources and gathering information; their initial target of 13 guilty local priests quickly turns into nearly a hundred.
They speak to a persnickety lawyer (Stanley Tucci) who defends the victims, and to a sly one (Billy Crudup) who makes deals for the church. They chase after a packet of sealed documents that could contain damning evidence. And, heartbreakingly, they interview a few of the surviving, grown-up victims.
Writer-director Tom McCarthy, best known for smart, tender character-driven stories like “The Station Agent,” “The Visitor” and “Win Win,” gives “Spotlight” a surprisingly straightforward, tightly-constructed structure.
It’s not overly visual, but McCarthy’s brightly-lit shots, and a spare music score by Howard Shore, give the movie’s ample dialogue an urgent sense of rhythm. The energy sizzles as new leads are uncovered and as puzzling setbacks occur.
McCarthy shows the characters’ lives are they’re in progress. We see them at ballgames, church and at home, No introduction, and no pleasantries, are required. And he coaxes admirable performances from the ensemble cast, although Tucci, Schreiber, Keaton and Ruffalo step up for a few movingly subtle moments.
The actors give life-blood to the highly intelligent movie, which is energized by the thrill of a David taking on a Goliath.
It’s the kind of story journalists live for, and it’s the kind of movie we all deserve.
Three and a half stars
Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber
Written by: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
Directed by: Tom McCarthy
Running time: 2 hours, 8 minutes