Spotlight is Railing Against the System

Somehow, the man who made Adam Sandler’s “The Cobbler,” a diverting trifle from earlier this year, is the same man who made “Spotlight,” an enthralling procedural drama detailing the painstaking work of four Boston Globe journalists who broke open the story on pedophilia in the priesthood in the early 2000’s.

Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James are the four-man crew tasked with taking on an institution as revered as the Catholic Church is in the city of Boston. Making phone calls, meeting victims, digging up church directories, even disturbing the legal silence of lawyers who turned child abuse into a cottage industry, they do it all. Whether it’s Michael’s Bostonian calm, Mark’s nervous energy, or Rachel’s quiet determination, each actor brings their own compelling repertoire to a story that shines a light on humanity’s ability to look the other way when darkness thrives right across the street. Stanley Tucci turns in a reliably wily performance as a hot tempered attorney with a heart of gold and game-changing information, and Liev Schreiber astutely plays against type as the soft-spoken Marty Baron, a Jewish editor from the Midwest who nudges the paper into going after the bigger story.

“We need to focus on the institution, not the individual priests. Practice and policy. Show me the church manipulated the system so these guys wouldn’t have to face charges. Show me that they put those same priests back into parishes time and time again. Show me this was systemic, that it came from the top down.” He realizes the names will only create noise, and nothing will change unless people know that the people in charge knew. Never resorting to either hagiography or sensationalism, “Spotlight,” like its characters, allows the facts to do the talking, and despite many scenes showcasing the mounting tedium of investigative journalism, brilliant editing means it moves like an action movie. It’s also appropriately angry, as evidenced by Ruffalo’s impassioned speech at a turning point in their investigation, “it’s time, Robby! It’s time! They knew, and they let it happen! To KIDS! Okay? It could’ve been you, it could’ve been me, it could’ve been any of us!”

Expertly written and directed by Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight” is not just another true story about systematic corruption and the crusading journalists who laid it bare for the world to see. It’s a film railing against the sort of cultural complacency that allowed such corruption to continue for so long unabated. “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”

Grade: A

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