Impeccably written and crafted, Spotlight is a first class drama and a standout for 2015.

If I am allowed just five words to describe Spotlight, those words would be Stellar, Scandalous, Stupendous, Spectacular and Sensational. But even these words can’t afford enough praise for a visceral film about honest and instinctive journalists devoted to pursuing truth in the interest of justice.

These journalists are a crack team of investigative reporters assigned to the titular arm of the Boston Globe. Led by Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton), with newshounds Michael Rezendez (Mark Ruffalo) and Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), the team goes to work when new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) suggests a closer look at sexual abuse allegations in Boston’s predominantly Irish-catholic population. Through exhaustive interviews and investigations, the Spotlight team goes from isolating “bad apple” priests in Boston, to indifference in the Massachusetts law enforcement and all the way up to the Vatican. What the team finds is not only the biggest cover-up by the Catholic Church but equally shocking is the fact that documents proving the cover-up existed all along while no one did anything about it. And even worse is the revelation of not just a flaw in the system, but a “phenomenon” all over the world.   

Based on actual events in 2001, co-writer and director Tom McCarthy exerts restrained precision on how this original story is told. Although rated 18+, McCarthy avoids visual reenactment of these abuses but still brings out the pain and trauma of victims through interviews with the team. Just hearing their ordeal is as gut-wrenching as having to see the act. They are now adults, but when they describe what was done to them, they cry like babies, like when you take something away from a baby. One extraordinary scene has Sacha interviewing a retired priest. You can almost feel the lump in her throat when she asks him if he ever molested a child. The smiling priest casually replies that he “fooled around a bit” before disclosing that he himself was raped as a child by another priest. Another scene has a juvenile choir singing Silent Night. Almost instinctively, you wonder if those kids have been touched. McCarthy has a few of these chilling moments to reiterate just how important this film is, but keeps it simple to follow despite a blistering pace.  

From cluttered newsroom desks to locations around Boston, Spotlight feels highly authentic in narration, detail and performance. At a time when major newspapers were on the decline, the film captures the anxiety of these reporters, their fear of being made redundant by the internet boom, competition from other newspapers, hence why they must remain the best at what they do. As an example of detail, McCarthy even uses the 9/11 attacks as an event that threatens to shut down the Church scandal, but the team’s focus remains undeterred. And so do the ensemble cast. Keaton, especially after his comeback in last year’s Birdman, is definitely here to stay. But it is Ruffalo that takes center stage as a relentless and inquisitive reporter married to the job. From hustling his way between courthouses and lawyers for and against Spotlight (Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup) and accessing restricted information, Ruffalo is at his outstanding best. There’s another great scene when his character flares up in frustration. For a second I thought he would rip through his clothes and turn into an angry green giant.        

Casting and delivery, along with an intelligent and impeccably written story makes Spotlight a standout for 2015 and a first class film at that. Altogether, it’s a good old fashioned drama celebrating good old fashioned journalism. Just as gallant as the pursuit of truth, the film too ends up pure and absolute. And the five words I used to describe this film? I’d also trade them for a Star each.

Rating: ★★★★★

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.