When the the trailer for Spotlight first dropped, I was pretty much ready to write it off as a Lifetime Original Melodrama. The way the trailer was edited made it seem like the film focused more on the emotional turmoil of the journalists rather than the facts of the case. Intercut sequences of Mark Ruffalo practically screaming, “Give me an Oscar!” didn’t really help dissuade my initial impression either. There was one glimmer of hope, though. The fact that Spotlight was helmed by Thomas McCarthy. The actor turned filmmaker did such a fantastic job keeping the sentimentality at bay with his previous films The Station Agent and The Visitor, that it would be hard to believe he’d start making Shondaland bullshit once he booked an all-star cast. Plus, working on the final season of The Wire, which was centered around the Baltimore Sun, I was confident McCarthy got a genuine feel for what reporting is really like. It turns out whoever cut that trailer is an idiot, because Spotlight is a powerful and intelligent film that focuses more on the integrity of journalism rather than the personal lives of it’s characters.
Spotlight is a rather optimistic film, because it shows that even in a world as cynical as our own, a news story that isn’t sponsored by a major corporation or has a political bias attached to it can still exist. The major story is child molestation in the Catholic Church and the vast conspiracy of high-ranking Church officials to bury it going all the way up to the Vatican. Michael Keaton is phenomenal as Walter “Robby” Robinson who heads up the Spotlight news team at the Boston Globe. He and his team (Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian D’Arcy James) begin investigating the abuse claims and realize the case is much bigger than any of them could have possibly imagined.
While Michael Keaton is certainly the stand-out, the acting is uniformly excellent. Mark Ruffalo is solid as the emotional anchor of the film, a role he’s more than a little familiar playing, and Rachel McAdams is surprisingly restrained in a role that easily could have been stereotypical or overcooked. Speaking of restrained, the forever underrated Liev Schrieber is given the opportunity to provide some majestically low-key acting as the Globe’s new editor. Needless to say it’s much more complicated and delicate than his work in Ray Donovan. Rounding out the cast is John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Neal Huff, Jamey Sheridan, Billy Crudup and Brian D’Arcy James, all fantastic.
For the most part, Spotlight never succumbs to being a Lifetime Original Melodrama. There’s no Precious-esque grainy flashback of a priest running his fingers through a little boy’s hair or dramatic confrontations between priests and molestation survivors. My biggest qualm with Spotlight lies is a montage towards the end featuring the team writing the final draft of their story to the soundtrack of an altar boy choir. It’s a little too on-the-nose and doesn’t fit the tone the film has already established. I see how McCarthy might have thought this would properly punctuate the scene, but he didn’t need it to get his point across. Most films, especially about touchy issues, try to spoon-feed us everything . Spotlight excels when it assumes we’re not idiots. Grade: A-