365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About


Spotlight (2015)

There are a couple of different ways to start the review for Spotlight. I could talk about the cast (quite possibly the ensemble cast of the year). I could talk about the hypocrisy that is organized religion. I will mention both of these in this post. But I will choose to start with the old fashion major newspaper reporting that used to be our number source of reliable news. In many ways it is sad that newspapers aren't what they used to be and never will be again. With the invention of the Internet, it was only a matter of time before most newspapers folded while others had to majorly trim their staff, editions, and number of pages produced with each issue. Where will The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and The New York Times be in 20 years? Well if the changes in the previous 20 years are any sort of indication, I'm not sure these newspapers will even be around in 20 years. If they are, they might be entirely electronically based. I still think there will be a place for newspapers big metropolitan newspapers such as these, but it just will not be in the print variety. For me, there are still things that I am interested in the Washington DC area that I feel can really be only fully addressed in something like The Washington Post, but I haven't purchased a physical newspaper in over a decade and only read one if I saw it sitting at a bar when I'm eating dinner, in the school library, etc. Likewise I do go online to The Washington Post go get the same information that I cannot find elsewhere, but their website isn't nearly as user-friendly as some of the other sites I go to. And finally, after I read a number of articles, I'm told that I reached my limit for the month and that I need to pay for a subscription to read anymore. Well...how hard is it to use a different device that hasn't yet recognized me to access the same material? And am I really going to need to read more than five articles a month? Nope. I have other resources that I still have at my disposal. Long story short...I still want/sort of need these major newspaper articles to survive. Yet I haven't given a cent towards any of these papers in over a decade and I don't plan to. If these newspapers are going to survive, they need to do something to tap into my monetary resources.

So that is a major sidebar. Sorry. Spotlight might be the best movie on newspaper reporting ever made. Yes, I am fully aware of All The Kings Men and this is the reason I am not already declaring it number one. If you liked All The Kings Men, you'll absolutely like Spotlight. I think it might be impossible to like one, but not the other. Most of the other great films about newspapers that I researched were well before my time and I wasn't even fully able to tell if they were actually about newspaper reporting. Ironically, one of the other great movies about newspapers in recent years (1994's The Paper) also starred Michael Keaton (Birdman, Beetlejuice) who, if you had to pick one, was the lead actor among this great cast. While The Paper was a very good movie (88% on Rotten Tomatoes), it was not based upon a true story. All the Presidents Men and Spotlight both were. Furthermore, these two movies exposed two of the biggest attempted cover-ups in the last 40 years. Which one is a better movie? I have no idea. I'd need to re-watch All the Presidents Men. I do realize that this movie did win four Academy Awards. It's still early in awards season, but, as good as it is, I don't see Spotlight winning any Academy Awards in what is proving to be a very difficult year. Nonetheless, Spotlight is a riveting drama about a handful of people working for The Boston Globe who were committed to exposing Cardinal Law, the Catholic Church, and an extraordinarily high number of Catholic priests who had been accused of molesting children in Boston, Massachusetts.

This movie takes place in 2001 and 2002, a few years before the mass public really knew about high members of the faith abusing their power and doing all kinds of inappropriate things with members of the congregation who turned to these men (and in some cases women) for advice. I won't even focus on the other atrocities committed by these high officials of the church. I will just focus on the absolutely incredibly high numbers of inappropriate sexual acts committed by priests. And I know that the focus shouldn't just be placed on priests. I know that the focus shouldn't just be on Catholicism. There are high ranking officials in all of these faiths behaving highly inappropriately. If it seems like this review so far it's closer to home than a lot of my other reviews, it does. The married pastor (and father of two daughters) who confirmed me in my church had multiple inappropriate relations with married women in our congregation who were seduced by him when they had sought him out for advice. While I did not know this at the time, I knew this person was not a good person and I actually anonymously called priests and pastors in other churches about how I could report inappropriate activities by my pastor. Keep in mind, I was a 16-year-old kid having these conversations. When this pastor did leave our church (saying he was called to his next mission in life), we had a huge celebration and send off for him. It wasn't until months (maybe even a year later) when we had a meeting in our sanctuary after a Sunday service in which it was explained that he did not leave because he was chosen by God for his next mission. He was forced to leave because of what he had done. I had never felt so duped in my entire life and have sworn off organized religion ever since.

I mention this because when I see stories about sexual abuse or inappropriate sexual activities by members of the clergy, I don't even bat an eye anymore. Unfortunately, it's been grained into my brain to expect this. It's very sad, but it is what it is and this belief isn't going to change. But this is neither here nor there. It has no relevance on my opinion of this movie. I am just surprised that the reports in this movie were surprised by their discoveries, but again I need to remind myself that this was 2001 and not 2015. The number of public allegations against clergy in 2001 wasn't nearly what it is today. It doesn't mean that it was happening any more or any less in 2001 than it is today, it's just that these things weren't reported.

This story begins in Boston with a nearly unrecognizable Liev Schreiber (Showtime's Ray Donovan, A Walk on the Moon) as the Marty Baron, the new editor-in-chief of The Boston Globe. He's coming off a short sting from the Miami Herald and previously worked for one of the papers in New York. He's not a Boston man, has no Boston ties. While respected, he has a reputation of not staying very long with his previous employers. What is ironic about Schreiber here is that his role has "a fixer" in  Ray Donovan stems from the abuse that he and his brothers suffered as kids from a priest in their native Boston. Schreiber's portrayal is so far from his portrayal as Ray in the Showtime series that it further exemplifies that he might be one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. He was so quite, calm, and able to look at the big picture long term as Marty. To say his character is the complete opposite of the intimidating, lawbreaking Ray in Ray Donovan might be the understatement of the year. Marty wants to make his mark, just as any good editor-in-chief would want to do. Specifically he wants his Spotligh Team (basically the Feature section of The Boston Globe) to dig deeper into a news story that alleges a Catholic priest molested a boy. 2001 Boston was a highly Catholic city so this wasn't the most popular move in the world and knew that his team would be greeted with much resistance, but also knew that it was stories such as these that needed to be the focus of American journalism.

But Marty believes he has a good Spotlight team that he believes in. This begins with Walter "Robby" Robinson (Keaton) who heads a team of three dedicated reporters. This was Keaton's first movie since his near Oscar winning performance for Birdman and it was good for me to see him return to a role that I was more accustomed to see him in. I loved a bunch of Keaton's stuff in the 80's (Beetlejuice, Mr. Mom, The Dream Team, Batman), but I'm liking Keaton 2.0 just as much. In this role, he's what you would expect in an editor. He is willing to listen, but doesn't hesitate in his decision-making. He is there to support his staff and will speak his mind when necessary, but also knows that empowering his writers and reporters will bring out the best in them. His staff of reporters includes the quirky, but effective Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo - Foxcatcher, The Kids Are All Right), the persistent Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams - Red Eye, Midnight in Paris), and the do a little bit of everything Brian d’Arcy James’ (Matt Carroll - television's Smash). It's a nice little team that has got great rapport with some of the others in the office, including Marty and deputy editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery - television's Mad Men).

The team thrives on Marty's objective and Robby's leadership. There are many obstacles along the way. It is obvious from the beginning, that there are many that want this story squashed (it has actually been a number of years since a lot of these accusations were made and the statue of limitation on many of these have passed). Still, there are witnesses willing to come forward. There are also witnesses that are extremely upset with the media (including The Boston Globe) because they had reported these accusations 10-20 years ago and nobody did anything about it. There are also people like Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci - The Lovely Bones, Margin Call) who will rub you the wrong way when you first meet him and you think he might be hiding something, but it turns out he might be the most caring actor in the whole movie. He fights for the rights of the victims and you can tell he's beat down by the ours he puts in the lack of results he's looking for.

Another part of what made this movie great was when the Spotlight team had enough of a story to expose these corrupt priests who not only hadn't been brought to justice, but who looked like they had gotten off scot-free for their misdeeds, Marty said not to publish yet because there was a much bigger story. The story was not about exposing the individual priests. It was about going after the people who were protecting them and those who were moving these accused priests from one situation to another all in an attempt to protect the church. Much credit to guys like Marty Baron, Walter Robinson, and others for not backing down in the face of adversity and breaking this very important story that ultimately served as the template for exposing child molesting priests from Catholic cities all over the world.

This movie is full of outstanding performances. Director Tom McCarthy (Win Win, The Station Agent) really stepped up and delivered in what is his biggest movie to date. The care to which each of the Spotlight members give to those they are interviewing shows a sincerity (without the need to offer extensive condolences for whatever happened to these characters beforehand...after all, they are reporters and not friends) that you would hope a reporter would have. Ultimately these movie succeeds not because of its topic, but because of its acting and the whole idea of seeing a story broken by a newspaper that we just don't find anymore. Especially in 2015 when anyone and everyone with a phone or access to a computer can be a reporter. You can break news on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. and many times that information isn't necessarily accurate. Worse, there are no consequences these days for average Joe's like you are me who post whatever we want to post through our various social media sites.

I don't know if this movie will finish in my 2015 Top 10. It's got a spot right now. I know there are lots of potentially great movies yet to be released. Regardless if this ends up in my Top 10 or not, I'd recommend anyone over the age of 25 or so to see this movie. It does not need to be seen in the theater, but do seat sometime before awards season, just in case it does happen to earn some nominations. Great movie.

Plot 10/10
Character Development 8.5/10 (Did these characters grow? I'm not sure. Not really. Maybe Keaton's character to an extent and maybe some of the side characters...unfortunately there were so many characters in this film that we didn't really get a chance to know them outside of work)
Character Chemistry 9/10 (The leads fed off each other well)
Acting 9.5/10 (top notch)
Screenplay 9/10 (I will say that there were a long list of names...the accused, the defendants, the lawyers, etc...you likely won't be able to remember who is who which is sort of frustrating, but it doesn't take away from the story)
Directing 10/10
Cinematography 8.5/10 (It felt a little more like the late 80's/early 90's than 2002 to me)
Sound 9/10 (Soft background sounds aid to the ambiance between the numerous scenes in this movie)
Hook and Reel 9.5/10
Universal Relevance 9.5/10

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