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Spotlight' shines bright

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Film offers compelling story, incredible performances

When it comes to Hollywood, the concept of 'based on a true story' is let's just call it flexible. Filmmakers have always played fairly fast and loose with the 'true' whenever it got in the way of the 'story.' However, the best of these films are the ones that manage to spin a powerful, compelling, genuine narrative without ever once losing sight of the facts.

'Spotlight' easily one of the best films of 2015 is just such a film.

Ostensibly, it's the story of the 2002 Boston Globe coverage of the widespread child molestation and subsequent cover-up taking place within the city's Catholic archdiocese, but in the hands of director Tom McCarthy and the script he co-wrote with Josh Singer, this film also offers a glimpse into the inner workings of journalism, a snapshot of newspaper work that strips away much of the glamour that sometimes gets projected upon it. Both ideas would be engaging on their own, but it's the combination of the two that makes the movie great.

Walter 'Robby' Robinson (Michael Keaton, 'Birdman') is the man in charge of a small Boston Globe investigative journalism team known as Spotlight. His writers are Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo, 'Avengers: Age of Ultron'), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams, TV's 'True Detective') and Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James, 'Time Out of Mind'); together, this group has been responsible for some of the most in-depth long-term stories the Globe has done.

When some questions pop up about the local Catholic Church's handling of allegations of abuse levied against a number of priests including a widespread systemic cover-up the Spotlight team, at the behest of new Globe honcho Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber, TV's 'Ray Donovan') and initially-skeptical editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery, TV's 'Mad Men'), starts investigating.

What follows is a lot of boots on the ground reporting; the team tracks down and engages with numerous sources, including an abuse survivor (Neal Huff, 'The Wannabe') and a lawyer who has been fighting the Church in the legal system (Stanley Tucci, 'Wild Card'). As they speak to more and more people and encounter more and more obstacles, the Spotlight team quickly realizes that there are many more impacted individuals than they might have guessed and that the conspiracy of silence goes much farther up the Church's chain of command than anyone could have expected.

'Spotlight' is the best movie about the nuts and bolts of journalism that we've seen in a generation. It is the best kind of procedural one that is true to the spirit of what it presents while working toward a compelling and meaningful outcome. Those culture-shaking stories that appeared in the Boston Globe in 2002 didn't spring forth full-formed. They were the end result of months of painstaking research and interviews and double-checks and triple-checks all with the sole intent to inform the reader of an important story. It's a fascinating peek behind the curtain, a look at how a massive and high-impact story grows from idea to implementation, from pen to page.

McCarthy has assembled a dream team of a cast, but somehow, this group outstanding on paper manages to outperform even their own high level of talent. 'Spotlight' is absolutely jammed with exceptional performances. Keaton is excellent as Robinson, bringing a passion and complexity to the relationship with this imposing story. McAdams is equally strong as the steadfast Pfeiffer, approaching her job with quiet intensity even as it pulls her apart from her family's faith. Schreiber and Slattery are both spot-on Schreiber as the intense outsider, Slattery as the impassioned insider while Tucci's performance is outstanding.

However, the real star turn here comes from Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo has been one of Hollywood's more underrated performers over the years, quietly wringing excellence from roles ranging from indie to blockbuster. In 'Spotlight,' we get to see a culmination, a role that is emotionally powerful and physically transformative; rarely do we see a star of his magnitude he's the Hulk, for goodness sake so completely subvert and submerge himself into a role. It's an exquisite piece of acting one for which we can only hope he is recognized.

'Spotlight' focuses on some troubling subject matter and a process that could be perceived as tedious. Those two factors wouldn't seem to indicate a compelling film to be made, but McCarthy infuses the proceedings with such tension and import and gravitas that the viewer can't help but be swept up and drawn in.

In short, 'Spotlight' deserves the spotlight.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 15 December 2015 21:34

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