Directed By: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, and Stanley Tucci
If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.
-Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci)
As we’ve seen one adaptation after another arrive at the box office throughout the fall movie season, I’ve been highly critical of many of the films in terms of scope.  Movies like Steve Jobs and Trumbo have failed to convey the grandness of the stories at hand despite being otherwise strong pictures.  Of the likely awards season contenders, the film that truly gets it right where these others have so noticeably gotten it wrong is Tom McCarthy's Spotlight.  The quote above says it all.  The film captures the journalistic process of uncovering the systemic failures of the Catholic Church and the innocent souls forever scarred by sexual abuse from its clergymen.  It's a film that truly conveys the magnitude of this social issue in all its horrifying nuances.

At The Boston Globe, a leadership shuffle is underway, and a subsequent change in course is coming for the paper.  Led by Walter "Robby" Robinson (Michael Keaton), the Globe’s Spotlight team is currently investigating the police department and a string of suspicious incidents.  New editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) arrives and changes their agenda entirely.  To the dismay of Robby's boss Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery) who has more pressing stories to tackle, Marty wants them to dig into the Catholic Church and recent stories on child molestation by men of the cloth throughout Boston.  In response, Robby puts his reporters Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James) on the investigation.

Michael's investigation begins with lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (Tucci).  The attorney has an astonishing 84 cases open related to pedophile priests across the city.  Sacha begins searching for victims to understand their stories.  Meanwhile, Robby begins working his connections throughout the city, including his longtime friend Jim Sullivan (Jamey Sheridan).  As the Spotlight team learns more and more about sex abuse claims that the Catholic Church has silenced time and time again, they begin to realize that there’s something systemic at play here that may go up to Cardinal Bernard Law (Len Cariou), head of the archdiocese of Boston.  Marty believes it goes even higher — all the way to the Vatican — and they need to be very careful as they investigate this troubling story.

As I said in my review of Truth recently, my gold standard of modern journalism films is Michael Mann's The Insider.  It simply doesn't get any better than this, and Truth fell short of it.  Relative to the big tobacco movie, Spotlight holds its own.  The devil is in the details of Tom McCarthy's Boston-based drama as he systematically unveils the atrocities committed by the Catholic Church as the scale grows and grows.  As is the case in any nonfiction journalism movie, the audience is well aware of the facts of the story long before the director reveals them.  To compensate for this, McCarthy uses the revelation of each detail of The Boston Globe's investigation to take us on a nuanced emotional journey.  I'm here to report that McCarthy delivers one turbulent ride that hits the spot.

McCarthy employs numerous cinematic devices throughout Spotlight.  He leverages gritty cinematography, a dark low-key score, and impressive camerawork to create a measured, brooding, and unsettling world that’s marked by an undying sense of paranoia.  It's really the perfect backdrop for a story about uncovering the biggest scandal the Catholic Church has faced in modern history.  The setting is insular enough to foster the communal, small town feel to which many of the characters allude.  At the same time, it's expansive enough to enable the revelations of something much more troubling and systemic as the Spotlight team broadens its investigation again and again.  All in all, these devices employed by McCarthy set the perfect stage for this gripping, engrossing narrative.
The cast delivers a set of solid performances as well.  For his part as our lead character Michael Rezendes, Mark Ruffalo gives one passionate portrayal of the gutsy reporter.  The story simultaneously disquiets his character and gives him something against which to rally.  For his part as Robby Robinson, Birdman star Michael Keaton gives another performance with his trademark charisma.  Working his connections all over town to get to the bottom of this scandalous story.  He shines as one of the film's leads.  Rachel McAdams gives a rather straightforward performance as reporter Sacha Pfeiffer.  She just doesn't bring quite enough emotional depth to her character.  Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, and Stanley Tucci.  These gentlemen lend the film both gravitas and comic relief with strong supporting turns.

There's no doubt in my mind that Spotlight will be in contention for gold as the awards season progresses.  It's an excellent film with strong direction and an unfortunately true narrative.  It gets into the nitty gritty details of the now-infamous Boston Globe investigation without sacrificing the big picture.  Succeeding where several other big titles have floundered, Spotlight gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.