Thomas McCarthy's SPOTLIGHT Shines Bright As Oscar Season Arrives

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SPOTLIGHT shines everywhere 11/20/15.

Thomas McCarthy is an actor, writer, and director with a couple of nice independent films under his directorial credits. With his latest film, SPOTLIGHT, he’s poised to be a household name, and almost certainly a name you’ll hear read aloud at the Oscars. The outstanding job he’s done crafting a story that by both default and historical accuracy require the film to be nothing more than a collection of talking head frames is so compellingly done, so engrossing, that it really makes my job difficult. I don’t want to tell you anything about it. I want you to see it for yourself. You need to see this film. Even the group that should be the most opposed to this film is very positive about it, and that’s the Catholic Church I’m talking about. Thomas McCarthy may just have directed a miracle.

SPOTLIGHT is a story a lot of my readers may be familiar with, especially if you’re Catholic and from Boston. This the story of how the Boston Globe’s tiny yet driven “Spotlight” investigative team broke the story of systemic sexual abuse by priests on both young boys and girls and the cover-up by the Church that went on for decades prior. The team of investigators consisted of Walter Robinson (the resurgent Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). They reported to Assistant Managing Editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery) and Boston Globe editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). The team spent more than a year fact-checking one of the most incendiary stories since the Sox sold the Babe to the Yankees: the clergy sex abuse scandal. The movie manages to take important but not visually exciting work and make it engaging, and that speaks to the acting. Continuing from his critically acclaimed role in BIRDMAN, Keaton is arresting as the patient crusader. His chemistry with everyone in the cast was palpable. Ruffalo played Rezendes with higher energy than his Hulk. He was especially effective when he shared the screen with the always terrific Stanley Tucci, who plays a world-weary lawyer for many of the victims. Schreiber was remarkably understated but very believable as Baron, a Jewish man running the top newspaper in a heavily Catholic market..

SPOTLIGHT has stuck with me long after I left the theater. It’s haunting. I find myself thinking about every interaction I can recall having with a priest, having grown up Catholic myself. My experiences were all quite positive, but the list of major cities in America where priests violated children consists of pretty much all of them. How many children had to suffer before someone or a group of people like the Spotlight group at the Globe challenged such an entrenched institution? Too many. It’s easy to vilify the Church, but that’s not entirely fair either. The Church does a lot of good in the world. I think they’ve clung to certain strictures for centuries too long, but for every devant priest there are hundreds trying to make people’s lives better. McCarthy is careful not to paint all Catholics with a wide brush, but he doesn’t sugarcoat the scope of the problem in Boston in the early 21st century. He also doesn't give the public or the media a pass either. The victims went largely ignored until Spotlight illuminated the issue with irrefutable evidence. I believe it’s McCarthy’s fair approach that makes SPOTLIGHT so accessible that even the Church accepts the film and it’s handling of their most polarizing issue without complaint. The general consenus among the media critic circles is that this is a truly remarkable film. How often does one production manage to be so well received by clergy and critics alike? This film is already beig compared to classics like ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN and deservedly so.  

No matter what religion you are, you can’t come out of SPOTLIGHT without feeling deeply for the victims of sex abuse by clergy, no matter if it’s Boston or Seattle or San Diego or San Juan. It is no small feat for Thomas McCarthy to tell this story, make it interesting without splashy action or effects, and get the nominal adversary of this film’s central conflict to endorse it. McCarthy and the cast deserve heaps of nominations when the Awards season revs up, and SPOTLIGHT deserves to be on your “must see” list.  If you have a good relationship with your priest, invite him along. It should make for interesting conversation and perhaps a lively homily next Sunday.

Grade: 
5.0 / 5.0