Co-writer/director Tom McCarthy uses The Boston Globe's 2002 investigative "Spotlight" team's uncovering of the Massachusetts Catholic Church's child sex abuse scandal to make a case for the value in the procedural work of journalism as he successfully recreates and constructs it for audiences here as high drama. Taking place mostly in drab offices, meeting rooms, and other everyday locations, Spotlight is a thrilling reconstruction of the real-life story about uncovering abuse and corruption at the highest levels.
Most of the drama comes from the daily work and grind of investigating the story as it highlights the reporters as dogged investigators played by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d'Arcy James with Michael Keaton, John Slattery, and Liev Schreiber as their editors. All are good and quietly moving the way daily reporters can be except for maybe Ruffalo who gets flashes of more anger and earnest passion than the rest. The editors either have sobering forethought or self-conflicting feelings about uncovering possibly unspeakable evils.
What's most valuable is how McCarthy never glorifies his subjects as heroes. They are simply workmen doing their jobs, asking questions, and searching for the truth. The detective story is thrilling and engrossing despite the deeply disturbing subject matter of institutional child abuse being not only tolerated, but accepted, and actively covered up in order to maintain power. McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer use a restrained hand and never sensationalize as they largely set aside the actual evildoers and frame the City of Boston as a closed community of neighbours and cultural Catholics contrasted with a shared lack of faith all-around.
What Spotlight does best is showcase its actors genuine performances of horror for uncovering the mass conspiracy at the heart of the scandal and its repercussions on Boston. McCarthy knows the story behind the story is so good, he simply documents it as truthfully as possible on screen in order to let the material and his actors shine. This is how the film makes a case for the public value or not only journalism and checks on public institutions but also hard work, due diligence, and longform storytelling.
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