Review: Spotlight

A fact-based story on how Boston Globe journalists unburied the city’s hidden child abuse by Catholic priests. 


The big winner at the Screen Actors Guild Awards last weekend, Spotlight has opened to much excitement in the UK. And rightly so, as Tom McCarthy’s low-key retelling of the Pulitzer Prize- winning Boston Globe investigation could well be touted as one of the best newspaper movies of its era.

Spotlight shows how, in 2002, a group of journalists at The Boston Globe revealed hundreds of children had been abused by Catholic priests in the Boston area. For a scandal of such compelling magnitude, the writers sure did not need to sensationalize the story. The movie adopts an honest, true-to-life approach devoid of any obscenity, with minimal screen-time for the clergy.

Authored by Josh Singer (The Fifth Estate) and director Tom McCarthy, this procedural investigative thriller runs over two hours, and is solely written around the not-so-glamorous journalistic spadework. It makes even the clichéd printing press scene emotionally charged – and that is credit to Tom McCarthy and his stellar cast.

You don’t have any action scenes here except, perhaps, for Michael Rezendes, played by the excellent Mark Ruffalo, bustling between courtrooms and newsrooms. Rezendes describes Boston as “the biggest small town” in America where “everybody seems to know everyone”. The film deeply probes the collective ability of the community to stand together against something wrong.

When Walter (Michael Keaton) efficiently struggles with the past and present and Matt (Brian d’Arcy James) quietly deals with sleeplessness and paranoia, it is Stanley Tucci’s tired but determined lawyer Garabedian who stays with you.

Boston here is brought to life by a set of actors whose collective brilliance could walk the SAG awards every year. With a tightly written script, exceptionally brilliant acting and a fitting soundtrack by the excellent Howard Shore, Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight is a serious contender at the Oscars this year and reminds us of the vital institution of print journalism and its importance in the society.

Towards the end of the film when Pfeiffer and Carroll come into the office on the day of publishing, there’s a brief exchange between them. Carroll discloses that off late, he’s been writing fiction to keep his mind off things. On what, asks Pfeiffer. “Horror,” Carroll smirks, and the two share a dry laugh. And before the final credits roll, we are bid farewell with a list of dozens of American cities similarly affected by clerical abuse and then a worldwide list – leaving us in his shoes to deal with the horrors.

Rating: 4/5

Five must see movies on journalism: