Jan 272016


Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning investigation into the Catholic Church’s cover-up of widespread sexual abuse and pedophilia within the organisation, Spotlight is a unfussy look at journalists doing their job, and doing it well. The sharp script is delivered by a cast of considerable talent, and it’s easy to see why Spotlight is the recipient of six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.

Spotlight is the name of a small team of investigative reporters who work on long-form, in-depth reporting for the Boston Globe newspaper. In 2001 the Globe appointed a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), who directed the team to abandon their current projects and ideas, and focus their investigative talents on a small, seemingly inconsequential column (published by the Globe) regarding a local priest who had been accused of abusing a number of young parishioners over more than 30 years.

Taking on the Catholic Church in a city like Boston (where the church is so intertwined with the government and institutions such as the police and schools) asked a lot of his staff, but there was a story there, and one that potentially went right to the top of the church and involved dozens of rotten priests and an unimaginable number of victims. The reporters weren’t completely removed from the story either. They served as altar boys at the church, had family members who were regular church goers, and they went to the church-run schools. Their investigation went right to the heart of the community they lived in.

Spotlight is very much a journalism procedural. It shows the meticulous, unglamorous, and sometimes emotionally taxing job of piecing together an investigation. It’s not sexy, it’s time-consuming, hard work. The film does a great job of showing how hard it is, without ever straying into the melodramatic, or conversely, the mundane. It gives us a peek into the impact it has on the journalist’s personal lives, but it doesn’t use this as fodder for dramatic tension. There’s something extremely admirable about a screenplay that trusts the audience will be interested enough in process, without the needing to glamorise it or the parties involved.

With such a fantastic ensemble cast delivering an extremely well-written script, it’s difficult to single out anyone in particular for praise. The Academy has singled out Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, nominating them both in the supporting acting categories. If the film has a lead it would be Ruffalo’s Michael Rezendes, who focuses on the legal aspects of the case, providing what could be considered the film’s dramatic peak. As well as Ruffalo’s emotional depth, there’s a real physicality to his performance which is interesting, but never showy. However, for me, it was actually Liev Schreiber who impressed the most. He is committed and intense, without being callous or cold. He plays Marty Baron with a calm authority which is captivating to watch.

If nothing else, Spotlight will cause you to feel nostalgia for the age of newspapers. While physical newspaper sales may be in the dumps, this sort of journalism is still important and I can’t imagine a time when it won’t be. With “click bait” articles driving traffic on the web, will organisations (both traditional and emerging) have the money and/or the desire to devote resources to investigative journalism? For our sake, I hope it finds a way to survive in the age of insta-news.


By Sam McCosh


The Facts

Director: Tom McCarthy
Writer(s): Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Brian d’Arcy James
Runtime: 128 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: January 28, 2016