Spotlight review: A compelling film on journalism Indians must watch

  • Jyoti Sharma Bawa, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 21, 2016 14:21 IST
Spotlight’s cast of Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams bring home an important point -- this is the kind of powerful journalism we all need.

Tom McCarthy
Cast: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci
Rating: 4/5

As I sit down to write Spotlight movie review, mostly distanced from its power keg topic of sex abuse in a Catholic Church, we in India are facing our own crisis of faith. With hot button issues such as the JNU protests, right-wing nationalism and attacks on media, a dialogue from this film – based on a true story – hits home.

“The city flourishes when its great institutions work together,” the cardinal tells the editor of the city’s biggest paper. The scene has all the bonhomie of two powerful men chatting together, holding the fate of thousands in their hands. Only, Liev Schreiber’s editor is not having any of it; he believes a newspaper should stand alone in order to do justice to its content. Transparency over collusion, challenging authority and old beliefs over blindly following status quo – that is the central conflict of this newsroom drama, and of India too at this point.

Liev Schreiber plays an editor who believes newspapers should stand alone if they want to report the truth.

The editor is Marty Baron of the Boston Globe, an outsider to the city of Boston and its elite. His entry as the man in command of Boston’s biggest paper will set off an investigative team of journalists, named Spotlight, on the trail of degenerate priests with a history of child sex abuse. The bigger story was how Catholic Church launched a cover-up spread over decades of the priests’ heinous acts.

By the time Spotlight is done with their story, 80 paedophile priests are revealed in Boston alone and over 1,000 victims. The team goes on to write 600 articles and receives the Pulitzer award for their efforts. Their investigation also sets off a chain reaction with similar cases being revealed across the world in countries like Argentina, Kenya and England.

Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams in a still from Spotlight. The cast effortlessly inhabits the characters, making Spotlight powerful and subtle at the same time.

Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) heads this team of these ink-stained heroes, a Catholic well entrenched in the establishment but essentially a news hound at heart. He is conflicted about the investigation but is soon horrified by the extent of the church’s cover-up and its human cost. His team includes Sacha Pfeiffer (a deglam Rachel McAdams), researcher Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) and Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo). Stanley Tucci, as the scrappy lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, brings his own spark to the film.

The cast’s triumph lies in the fact that it makes the film its own. They are no longer A-lister stars performing roles, but are transformed into a team of journalists doing their job and earning their daily bread. In starched shirts and pleated trousers, the team spends months doing the legwork, perusing files and directories and following dead ends. In the end, there is no eulogy. Instead, they are revealed to be regular fallible humans who make mistakes and make amends, all in the line of duty.

There is a true hero though, director Tom McCarthy who has also co-written the script. Tight and beautifully paced, McCarthy works the film as a thriller despite the audience knowing how it all plays out. He manages to make your regular shoe-leather investigation a thing of mystery. There is no attempt to manipulate your emotions either given the film’s content. The film eschews all euphemism, instead focusing on sex abuse in all its distasteful, gritty detail.

Cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (known for Silver Lining Playbook, Warrior) keeps it real in the film. There are no frills to excite the audience, save for the emotional flow of one of the most powerful films you will see this year.

Watch Spotlight trailer

Inarguably one of the finest films on investigative journalism, Spotlight is an excellent critique of what blind deference to authority or faith can do to you. The problem affects India and America equally.

The writer tweets @JSB17

Follow @htshowbiz for more.

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