From an Adam Sandler collaboration to awards darling within the space of a few months; bouncing back from his critically panned The Cobbler, actor-turned-director Tom McCarthy’s true life investigative journalism tale Spotlight has caused a huge splash during 2016’s gong-giving season. With 6 0scar nominations in the bag, an ensemble cast including Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams took on the jaw-dropping tale of the Boston Globe newspaper’s uncovering of the child abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church in the early 2000’s.
The Globe’s new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) – a Jewish, unmarried out-of-towner – isn’t afraid of ruffling a few Bostonian feathers. Before even managing to take a sip of his (I can only imagine) lukewarm coffee in his not-so-fancy new office, he’s tasked the paper’s investigative team ‘Spotlight’ to look into a story on child abuse allegations within the Catholic Church, whilst also taking the institution to court over the release of supposedly incriminating documents. A quiet start for the latest editor-in-chief…
The four-person unit, headed up by local boy Walter “Robby” Robinson (Keaton), and including Mike Rezendes (Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), enter a shit-storm they could never have imagined. From one accused priest to nearly 90, it’s not one “bad apple”, but an institutional disease of child molesters in a city which has failed to act.
It’s an incredibly important story, yet one which, when wearing our hard-topped cynical hats, screams “Oscar bait”. However to categorise Spotlight as such would undermine what is a marvellously well-constructed examination of not only the Catholic Church, or investigative journalism in general, but of society – specifically the Boston community – itself.
In the midst of Ruffalo’s busy-body Oscar-nominated performance, and Liev Schreiber’s well executed turn as the straight-faced editor, there’s a lot to admire about McCarthy’s direction. The subject matter – raw, tender and highly emotive – is handled with the care it deserved and needed, yet it never bumbles around the horrific truth as we’re exposed to survivor’s accounts in teary-eyed detail.
What’s also notable – and what makes the film so well rounded – is that it isn’t just about throwing a specific institution, or a group of people connected to it, under a fleet of buses. The church and its associates whom helped in this cover-up are firmly under the ever-widening microscope, yet far from making the Globe and its investigative team the heroes of the piece, it places thems, and journalism itself, firmly under the scope too, asking one simple question: why the hell was nothing done before?
There’s no ‘I’ in team is a face-palmingingly over-used cliché, yet it certainly applies to Spotlight – the journalistic unit, and the film itself. There’s little wonder that the cast have swept up numerous ensemble awards (including the much coveted SAG). Ruffalo and McAdams have seen themselves singled out for praise, but it needs all its finely tuned cogs – Keaton’s determination, Schreiber’s conviction, McCarthy’s immersive style and Stanley Tucci’s impressive wig – to make this Best Picture favourite tick.
There are no tiny violins playing off-shot to emphasise its highly emotive storyline, yet it’d take a cold, cold heart not to be moved by its shockingly disturbing proceedings. Whether the Academy will reward the Win Win helmer’s latest piece of work remains to be seen, but Spotlight is a finely tuned, and brutally honest, collaborative spectacle.