The film follows a team of reporters (excellently played by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery and Brian d’Arcy James) writing for the Boston Globe that is dedicated to investigative journalism called Spotlight. A new editor (Liev Schreiber) asks them to write a follow-up investigative piece on lawyer Mitchell Garabedian’s (Stanley Tucci) accusations regarding Cardinal Law who according to him knew that a priest named John Geoghan had been sexually abusing children and did not take the necessary actions you would normally expect.
The investigation that starts of by looking into one case slowly but surely leads to a vastly increasing number of similar cases were the sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests are being covered-up systematically by the Boston Archdiocese for decades. The cases are being settled out of court, victims are not being acknowledged or helped, they’re forced to sign non-diclosure agreements and the priests are moved around from one parish to another and in some cases are put in a ‘safe’house (see also Pablo Lorraín’s El Club https://bttcinema.com/2016/01/05/pablo-larrains-el-club-where-troublesome-priests-with-are-put-in-hiding/) in a society that is not willing (or able) to except what is really happening.
The script as penned by Josh Singer and director Tom McCarthy is a great piece of investigative writing in its own right painstakingly recreating the lengths the reporters went to to bring this Pulitzer Prize winning story to the public. In a nice sidenote the film shows how the story is momentarily being put on hold as the coverage of the 9/11 attacks and its aftermath are taking priority. McCarthy a respected actor (he played a journalist himself, be it a dodgy one, in the final season of The Wire) made his directorial debut in 2003 with The Station Agent starring Peter Dinklage (mostly known for his role as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones) in the lead, followed up with The Visitor (2007) providing respected character actor Richard Jenkins in the lead (even leading to an oscar nomination). Jenkins can also be heard (during several phone calls but is not seen on screen) in Spotlight as he plays psychotherapist Richard Sipe.
In what could be a first, this year McCarthy has films nominated for both the Oscars and the Razzies. His previous film The Cobbler (2014) -which is not that bad at all- has been nominated for 2 Razzies as its lead actor Adam Sandler happens to be somewhat of a Razzie magnet.
Spotlight is certainly his most ambitious film to date. McCarthy is not the kind of director that likes to show off with flashy camerawork and a radical cinematic style but instead opts for a more classic approach, starting from a great story/interesting subject matter, and a gripping script superbly acted that keeps you at the edge of your seat. In the wake of the publications similar stories broke all over the globe that showed a remarkably comparable systemic problem and handling of such cases including o.a. in Bruges, Belgium (as mentioned in the end credits).