“Spotlight”: A Nickell-odeon Review

December 2, 2015

Here it is at last, the film about priests’ child sexual abuse in Boston—and its cover-up by the Catholic church—seen from the vantage point of the Boston Globe reporters who broke the story.

The reporters (played by Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams) and their leader (Michael Keaton), constitute a team working for the Globe’s Spotlight section. They are guided by a new editor-in-chief from Florida (Liev Schreiber) and boss Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery).

The Globesters come up against church apologists (Jamey Sheridan and Paul Guilfoyle) and Cardinal Law himself (Len Cariou), but they are aided by a lawyer with a wealth of secret information (Stanley Tucci) and a deep-background, voice on-the-phone expert on the subject (Richard Jenkins) who knows the team has only found the tip of the iceberg.

Spotlight—directed by Tom McCarthy—unflinchingly reports on the reporters and the sordid evidence they encounter. Viewers soon find themselves caught up in the details, and the film sweeps them along as they learn, like the reporters, how offending priests were repeatedly aided in their predatory activities by being reassigned—and so gaining access to potential new victims.

The team’s one-year investigation revealed a cover-up that had spanned decades. It led to the highest reaches of Boston’s religious and legal establishment. The revelations—ultimately yielding some 600 articles by the above team—sparked a wave of similar revelations worldwide, and they no doubt helped prompt the election of a reform-minded pope.

Spotlight is the accurate, behind-the-scenes portrayal of journalism in all its hesitant, messy, on-again-off-again, dogged, and ultimately successful and valiant operations. The Boston Globe won a Pulitzer Prize for its investigation. And now it has deservedly earned a film this good. Spotlight should be nominated for a best-picture Oscar.

Rating: Four wooden nickels (out of four)

Four Nickels