Spotlight review

And the Oscar goes to…?

GamesRadar+ Verdict

A rigorously detailed telling of an important story that never loses sight of the human devastation. Terrific turns from the ensemble cast.

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And the Oscar goes to…?

From the director of Adam Sandler’s The Cobbler comes the frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar, an ode to old-fashioned journalism with nary a shred of sentiment or, one histrionic scene aside, sensationalism.

Tom McCarthy’s sobering drama demonstrates disciplined filmmaking built upon scrupulous storytelling, clear-eyed direction and unshowy performances, as befits a true-life tale about journalists who painstakingly piece together a Pulitzer Prize-winning story about systematic child abuse by Catholic priests in Boston.

July 2001. Father John Geoghan, now defrocked, is alleged to have molested more than 80 boys. The Boston Globe runs a couple of stories and moves on. Until, that is, incoming editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) has the paper’s investigative team, Spotlight – Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton), Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) – dig deeper.

The next two hours are spent corralling and corroborating evidence, with paperwork sifted, doors cold-called and notes scribbled. Two attorneys come crucially into play – the dogged, dog-eared Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), who represents the 86 plaintiffs in the Geoghan case, and the slick Eric Macleish (Billy Crudup), who has sought out-of-court remuneration for many victims. And the petitioning for the release of some smoking-gun documents becomes key.

With exception of journalists running between desks to inject urgency, Spotlight resists cinematic clichés and instead trusts in the power of its source material. The case, like viewers’ eyes, grows ever wider, taking in not just the Catholic Church but legal, political and journalistic institutions (including The Globe – this is not a film swollen with self-congratulation), and identifying a psychological dysfunction that spreads beyond Boston and, indeed, America.

But it is McCarthy’s understanding of this particular investigation in this particular city, with its catholic populace and culture of shame and concealment, that makes Spotlight so engrossing. It took Baron, a Jew from Florida, to push for the ugly truth, and McCarthy, a graduate of Boston College who acted in 10 episodes of the similarly onion-layered The Wire, to make a responsible film of a powder-keg phenomenon.

Something to note: section editor Ben Bradlee Jr (John Slattery) is the son of Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee, editor of The Washington Post while Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein documented the Watergate scandal. Spotlight isn’t of the level of All The President’s Men, but deserves mention in the same breath.

More info

Theatrical release29 January 2016
DirectorTom McCarthy
Starring"Mark Ruffalo","Michael Keaton","Rachel McAdams","Liev Schreiber","Stanley Tucci"
Available platformsMovie
Editor-at-Large, Total Film

Jamie Graham is the Editor-at-Large of Total Film magazine. You'll likely find them around these parts reviewing the biggest films on the planet and speaking to some of the biggest stars in the business – that's just what Jamie does. Jamie has also written for outlets like SFX and the Sunday Times Culture, and appeared on podcasts exploring the wondrous worlds of occult and horror.