Shining a light

A very moving retelling of Boston Globe’s investigation of sex abuse and coverup in the Catholic Church

Starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber. Directed by Tom McCarthy. Cinemark 14. Rated R.
Rated 5.0

As a rousing newspaper drama, Spotlight is both riveting and uncommonly intricate; as a socio-cultural exposé, it is tactful, humane and relentless in its honesty; as a portrait of a kind of collective identity crisis in a major American city, it is incisive and very moving.

Writer-director Tom McCarthy (and co-writer Josh Singer) have taken on a hugely dramatic subject—investigative reporters for the Boston Globe exposing the massive, systemic coverup of sex abuse in Boston’s Catholic churches—and presented it in terms that are brashly realistic and compelling while also remaining averse to cheap-shot sentiments.

The film’s title refers to the Globe’s Spotlight unit, a group of four reporters devoted to long-term investigative journalism. In the film, that group is played by Mark Ruffalo (as Mike Rezendes), Michael Keaton (as Editor Walter “Robby” Robinson), Rachel McAdams (as Sacha Pfeiffer) and Brian d’Arcy James (as Matt Carroll). Liev Schreiber (as publisher Marty Baron) and John Slattery (as Managing Editor Ben Bradlee Jr.) are key figures in the action as well.

Those six are the face of the film—six deftly sketched, workaday varieties of moral and journalistic dedication. Ruffalo’s dogged intensity, Keaton’s haunted ambiguity and Schreiber’s fierce calm produce some individual standout moments, but Spotlight is an ensemble effort in all respects.

Some of the best acting in the film comes in the secondary and cameo roles. Stanley Tucci is excellent as Mitchell Garabedian, a tired-looking lawyer for abuse victims who is nevertheless heroic in his relentlessness. Billy Crudup is very smooth as lawyer Eric MacLeish, a seemingly unflappable facilitator of the coverups. Neal Huff is very good as a much-ignored victims’ advocate, and so is Richard O’Rourke as a prim little priest who freely admits his transgressions but insists they were victimless acts.