Film Review: Spotlight

Spotlight Poster

Spotlight Plot Summary:

Based on the true story set in 2001, the Boston Globe Spotlight team is tasked with looking into a case about accusations against a Catholic Priest in Boston molesting children, but uncover a deeper scandal that dates back years, as the journalists struggle to fight through the massive cover up.

Spotlight is an example of a great script that lets great actors go hog wild. It very much reminded me of 2008’s Frost/Nixon. Everything is already on the page. The director knows you don’t need to infuse cheap style and flare. It’s just people having riveting conversations with a great back and forth. It also focuses on two important subjects. When this story broke about the Catholic Church, it was a big deal, but we sometimes forget. It also reminds us that there are people in Journalism that actually do work really, really hard. But as I always say, important subject matter doesn’t automatically make your film great. You have to execute it, which Spotlight does in spades.

Spotlight pic 1

What this movie does best is that it’s not heavy-handed. Sometimes I like heavy dialogue. Heck, I’m a Christopher Nolan fan for crying out loud, but this film needed to be lean in its words, and that’s exactly what it does. We’re dealing with a hard subject, but these characters stick to the facts and don’t waste time, which gives the movie a nice flow. It’s the passion of the actors that really sell this. You can tell they were heavily invested in this movie. It oozes out of the screen.

The Spotlight team consists of four main players, led by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), but it’s really Mark Ruffalo’s character, Mike Rezendes, who serves as the point man. Ruffalo is a fantastic actor. He’s not flashy like a Leonardo DiCaprio or Christian Bale, but his understated nature still brings passion to every role he does, just like last year’s Foxcatcher. While he plays the cliché pestering news boy who constantly hounds people, Ruffalo executes it so damn well. He also has a great back and forth with the lawyer who represents many of the victims involved in the case, played wonderfully by Stanley Tucci. Both are great foils, as both are tremendous pain the asses, but in opposite ways.

While very focused on the pure story itself, the script still manages to give these characters substance, as everyone on the team deals with their own conflicts while they work to uncover the story. Keaton is superb, carrying a great presence like the Obi-Wan of the team. This is the best I’ve ever seen Rachel McAdams. As I mentioned before, her investment in the material comes flying off the screen. Brian d’Arcy James is also compelling as one of the researchers, and deals with one of the more guilt-ridden storylines that truly plays close to home for his character.

Spotlight pic 2

The movie is also infused with a barrage of great supporting characters. John Slattery (who I’m normally not a fan of) slides in and out as Keaton’s quasi mentor, but he adds a lot of much needed levity. Jamey Sheridan plays a small, but crucial role as a lawyer, and brings a lot of depth and internal conflict to the story. Actors such as Michael Cyril Creighton and Jimmy LeBlanc only have one scene each, but are emotionally wrenching as victims who get interviewed by the team. Again, the dialogue here isn’t overly done. It’s emotional because they feel like real conversations. Liev Schreiber is also brilliant as the new Globe Editor who gets the ball rolling as the Boston outsider, which also adds another layer. The biggest obstacle these guys face is the cover up, as the Catholic Church holds a heavy influence over the city, and it seems like everyone involved in the movie is guilty in some way for covering it up. Even the Spotlight team, who are working their asses off in trying to break this story, feel a level of guilt.

While the movie is efficient nearly all the way through, it does slow up in the third act as the characters shift from job mode to “it’s personal” mode, though it’s well-earned. My only major complaint is because this takes place in 2001, there is a 9/11 element that gets thrown in. While this serves a purpose in the story, it does break the entire momentum of the movie, although to be fair, that’s the point. There’s also a huge scene where McAdams interviews an aging/retired priest who nearly admits to molesting children, as well as other revelations, but it’s never revisited, even though Keaton’s character flat out says they will. That was disappointing.

If you’re one of the people who yell “They don’t make movies for me anymore. It’s all action fluff,” then this is truly the one for you. It’s in the vein of classics like All The Presidents Men or Network. Growing up near Boston though, I just have one mini rant. Do all movies set in Boston have to go out of their way to make a Red Sox reference? Come on! Yes, it’s a huge part of our culture, but it’s always done in the most obnoxious ways possible. We get it, your movie takes place in Boston. You don’t always have to mention the Red Sox. For crying out loud!

RATING: 8.5 OUT OF 10 (Really Great)

Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow’s fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.