Spotlight, besides being the name of the movie, is the section of the Boston Globe which is tasked by new director Marty Robbins (an astonishingly good Liev Schreiber) to take on the allegations of abuse by the Catholic Church. With a story like this, there's a temptation to dramatize and glorify the efforts of this small team of reporters. Instead, the story respects the truth with its portrayal. The tone, colors, and camera actions are almost muted and the action reflects this as we see the true drudgery and dedication that journalism requires. We see little of the reporters -- played by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d'Arcy James -- outside of the newsroom except to see that their work is essentially their life. There are nuances and mannerisms they understand about each other that not even their spouses are privy to.
There's no other movie I can think of that actually captures the feeling of the beginning of the millenium as well as Spotlight does. And without emphasizing it, the film is able to convey the sheer magnitude of its discovery in a place like faith-drenched Boston and in a time where people needed faith more than anything else. Additionally, the matter-of-fact manner that some events unfold is what increases our incredulity of it. Through a few well-placed words and scenes, we're able to grasp the possible impact the story will have on its community.
The ensemble performance is staggering, proving that we don't need to smash mirrors to grab an audience's attention. The muted sorrow of one of Mark Ruffalo's monologues is simply the best that I've seen him. I think it's a travesty he didn't grab a nomination for his work here. The entire cast is phenomenal, with a performance by Michael Keaton that had his real-life counterpart Walter "Robby" Robinson a bit phased at seeing what he called a mirror image of himself. Ruffalo interviewed with, called, and recorded his reporter Mike Rezendes. Liev Schreiber was wonderful, genuine, and a surprise to behold on screen.
It's also a surprising turn from mostly green director Tom McCarthy, whose previous movie was the comedy The Cobbler with Adam Sandler. I'm sure it helped to have such a stellar group of actors, but there's certainly a restraint that he exercises in the film that gives it the tone it needs. Much as Liev Schreiber mutters to himself as he's reading through the story ("Adjectives" as he crosses out a word), McCarthy recognizes that it's not just the story but how it's told. The events that unfold are compelling on their own, but the faithful rendering of the process behind it is also what makes this a great film.