Spotlight review: a must see hard-hitting newsroom drama

Spotlight review: a must see hard-hitting newsroom drama

Aleesha Matharu @almatharu

We're at a time when print media is coming dangerously close to extinction where 24/7 news cycles have overtaken good old-fashioned investigative journalism.

Which is why Spotlight is a perfect reminder of how valuable uncovering the truth is. It's based on a true story - The Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning months-long investigation into sexual abuse by priests that went on for years with the complicit silence of the Catholic Church.

Considering the subject matter, you'd think this would be a depressing affair.

But director Tom McCarthy and his co-writer Josh Singer make sure that movie focuses on presenting the facts as they are without excessive amounts of emotion. It's refreshingly subdued and understated, with no embellishments whatsoever.

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In short: In July 2001, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) became the editor of the Boston Globe and tasked the paper's investigative team - Spotlight - with looking into Catholic priests sexually abusing minors. Although the abuse looks like a few scattered incidents at first, the team digs further and sees that both the abuse and the cover-up were systemic.

From 13 original priests found guilty in the Massachusetts diocese, the number expanded by 2002 to include 249 priests and 1,000 victims, and the impact of the coverage went global, leading to the eventual exposure of more than 670 pedophile priests throughout the world.

Michael Keaton, as the Spotlight team's editor and leader, Robby Robinson, leads the cast with dry wit and quick intelligence; his performance anchors all the others. Mark Ruffalo is marvellously twitchy and dynamic as Mike Rezendes, one of the unit's reporters; his teammates, Sacha Pfeiffer and Matt Carroll, are played, respectively and expertly, by Rachel McAdams and Brian d'Arcy James.

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At its crux, it's about separating the unpleasant truth from the comfortable lies

At its crux, it's about journalism with integrity and separating the unpleasant truth from the comfortable lies: You knock on doors of the victims who are reluctant to come forward. You listen in on interviews with corrupt lawyers, damaged survivors whose settlements from the Church have mysteriously disappeared with no paper trail. You doggedly keep following the paper trail.

Still, considering those astonishing results, what's remarkable about Spotlight is how unflashy it is. By the end, we even realise that reporters aren't always heroes either - mistakes come with the territory, and Keaton's Robinson has to reckon with some himself.

And while Spotlight is about priests in the Catholic Church and the heinous acts they committed against young boys and girls alike, there are very few men of the cloth shown on-screen. Rather, we hear of the horrid encounters that irreparably changed numerous lives from the victims themselves.

"How do you say no to God?" is one particularly powerful line used by a victim to explain how a priest trapped him both emotionally and spiritually.

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Performances with depth

The backbone of Spotlight is its impeccable cast. In a film dense with still-action conversations, it's the chops of talents like John Slattery, Liev Schreiber, and Billy Crudup in supporting roles that carry the story through.

Slattery brings his exasperated charm from Mad Men into the role of managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr, and Stanley Tucci is sensational as the oddball attorney Mitchell Garabedian. Schreiber is Marty Baron, the Globe's zealous new editor, and Crudup makes the most of his screen time as conflicted lawyer Eric MacLeish, beholden to the Church but ultimately interested in bringing them to justice.

Spotlight is up for six Oscars in five of the big categories - I wouldn't be surprised if it won it for editing at all. The movie was shot in sound bites and segments, but somehow all of the pieces fit seamlessly.

The verdict

Spotlight isn't a big, flashy movie, but it's a beautifully told story that says something important about our world. It is a movie I think everyone should see.

RATING: 4 out of 5

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Aleesha Matharu

Aleesha Matharu @almatharu