Michael Keaton’s ‘Spotlight’ offers a captivating look at journalism in action

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The work of The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team in exposing the history of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church is one of the greatest moments in American Journalism this millennia. Spotlight, the new film from director Thomas McCarthy, showcases the efforts made to bring this heartbreaking story to light in a commendable way that is carried by a large ensemble of today’s best acting talent.

The year is 2001, and months before the terrorist attacks of September 11, the “Spotlight” team at the Boston Globe has been just been asked by the paper’s new editor (played by Liev Schrieber) to investigate allegations against John Geoghan, an unfrocked priest accused of molesting more than 80 boys. The lead is so horrific most find it hard to believe, but the reality is that this case is actually one of many that is discreetly taking place. Ad it’s not just happening in Boston, but all over the world. There is little to no public evidence of any wrongdoing thanks to lawyers who know how to leverage the legal system, but still the team presses on, leveraging their keen reporting skills to uncover the truth.

Religion has played an important role in for thousands of years, so it should come as no surprise that not everyone is excited to learn of the team’s work. Even if the church is aware of wrongdoing, and even if they are making efforts to hide this fact from the general public there is still a lot of good being accomplished as well. People, both faithful and not, believe that exposing any wrongdoing may undermine the positive impact religion has on a community. They’re not wrong, in theory, but the team investigating the claims understands that the public has a right to know what has been going on behind closed doors for decades (if not longer).

Leading the “Spotlight” team is Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), who serves as an advisor and aide to reporters Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) and Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams). The team interviews victims while trying to unseal sensitive documents the church does not want public, and through doing so McCarthy, who also penned the screenplay, explores each journalist’s personal journey to the truth. It’s a balancing act that takes time to reveal itself in full, but its presence brings added depth and meaning to a story already that packs a heavy dramatic punch. The supporting players are equally well-rounded, and they’re presented through strong performances from the likes of Stanley Tucci, John Slattery, Billy Crudup and the great Len Cariou.

Spotlight could easily showcase the world of journalism as a place where luck and desire collide, with things falling into place right when they’re needed most, but the beauty of McCarthy’s creation is that it revels in the grunt work associated with true reporting. The accomplishments of the “Spotlight” team are earned from beginning to end, and limitless possible outcomes of any given interaction leads the audience to remain engaged throughout. You know the story will eventually break, but I am willing to wage the vast majority of viewers have no idea precisely how the story came together prior to going public. This is the story Spotlight chooses to tell, and it’s a risky choice that pays off largely thanks to its impressive cast.

Some will no doubt be turned away by Spotlight’s lack of tension, but those able to appreciate a look at what takes place behind the scenes of a scandal in the final moments before it becomes public knowledge will be enthralled by the world Thomas McCarthy has brought to life. True to its origin and expertly acted, Spotlight showcases the people who live their lives to make others aware of the world around them in a way that praises their work over their personalities. It’s a celebration of doing the right thing not because it’s easy or what people necessarily want, but because it’s what must be done to ensure a better future for all of mankind. If you don’t walk away feeling inspired, you might want to check your neck to ensure you still have a pulse.