REVIEW: “Spotlight”


I’ve always been a sucker for movies with journalism at their center. I like all kinds of them – the character-driven dramas and especially the more focused procedurals. For years Hollywood has enjoyed using journalism as a means of telling numerous kinds of stories. Many have been fantastic films while others…not so much.

The latest journalism picture sets us down in the world of investigative reporting. It is Thomas McCarthy’s “Spotlight” – an absorbing newsroom drama about a Boston Globe investigative team’s discovery of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests. The story goes even further by following the team’s uncovering of an elaborate and disgusting cover-up by the Boston Archdiocese.


The film is inspired by the true story of the Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ unit who in 2001 exposed the abuse and cover-up eventually winning a Pulitzer Prize for their work. McCarthy also co-wrote the script which notably doesn’t feature a true lead performance. This serves the story well. “Spotlight” is a full-on ensemble picture built around several key characters and represented by some of the best performances of the year.

The ever-entertaining Michael Keaton plays Walter “Robby” Robinson who heads the Globe’s four person Spotlight team. His team consists of the fervent, high-strung Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), the tireless Ohio transplant Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and the seasoned Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). It’s a tight-knit and semi-autonomous group who determine their own investigations and are given all the time and resources needed.


That appears to change when, amid potential company cuts, the Globe brings in a Boston outsider Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). Feeling there is an important story to be told, the new boss immediately pulls Spotlight off their current project and has them investigate alleged child abuse among local priests. Their trail winds back several years implicating more priests and revealing more victims.

“Spotlight” is a painstaking procedural more focused on credible detail than big, showy moments. There is no pomp or pageantry. McCarthy is far more interested in examining the journalistic process than standard issue newsroom clichés. Everything he presents is done so with the utmost realism. You truly get a sense that you are watching an investigative process in motion. It may be the energy of the newsroom (much of which was shot in the Boston Globe offices) or something as simple as digging through old news clippings, making phone calls,  or examining old records.


But there is an incredible balance within the film. It is a journalism procedural but there is also the serious and unsettling story we witness being uncovered. “Spotlight” handles this prickly subject deftly and earnestly. It pulls no punches while at the same time respectfully representing the victims. Even in these moments the movie avoids the temptation to go big. It maintains a consistent level of restraint both from the actors and the director.

And not enough can be said about the performances. Keaton and Ruffalo are flawlessly in tune with their characters. Liev Schreiber may be the biggest surprise delivering a clever minimalist performance. John Slattery even dials it back as the paper’s deputy editor. And Stanley Tucci is fabulous as an attorney on the wrong side of the church due to his unsuccessful crusade against clerical molesters. Tucci is an actor known to go big, but even he is more concerned about serving the story than his character. It’s something the entire cast shares.


Ironically the film is titled “Spotlight” yet a spotlight is something no one involved seeks. Whether you’re talking about the director or a cast member, everyone seems more interested in the story being told. That chemistry allows for the film to center its focus on smart, meticulous storytelling. McCarthy’s film is subtly thrilling and it flows at such an invigorating pace. Better yet it doesn’t hold our hand or insinuate we need every narrative beat explained for us. And in the end there is no chest pounding or lofty hero statuses. Just a stinging indictment that reaches beyond the church. As one character says “There is enough blame to go around”.

The Spotlight team ran a series of revealing articles that had a profound impact throughout Boston and beyond. It was true journalism at its purest during what could be called the last great age of the newspapers. “Spotlight” the movie is a worthy tribute to the important work done by that team. It also happens to be one of the best films of 2015 and easily one of the best films about journalism itself.




62 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Spotlight”

  1. I really want to see this as I do like Thomas McCarthy (though I haven’t and probably won’t see The Cobbler) as well as the premise of what he’s trying to create.

    • Trust me, this is no “The Cobbler” and I mean that in a very good way.

      This is an absolute must see. I don’t give out 5 star scores often. This is the first of the year. But I couldn’t find any logical reason for this one not to get it. Hope you get to see it soon. Would love to hear your thoughts.

  2. I loved it too and it wasn’t depressing oddly enough. I left inspired. And it wasn’t really a takedown of religion but more a story about the dangers of group thought

    • You bring up great points, all of which contribute to it getting one of my few 5 star scores. I didn’t find it depressing either but it was sometimes uncomfortable (which was good). I do like how the ending wasn’t all claps and high fives. In a way it painted everyone as guilty – responsible in their own way. Sobering yet (as you mention) inspiring.

  3. Such a fantastic movie. Saw it over the weekend and absolutely loved it. Comparisons to All the Presidents Men are not taking it too far. Absolutely brilliant

    • I’ve heard that comparison a lot and you’re right. Not taking it too far at all. How was the crowd at your viewing? I’m really concerned that moviegoers will pass this one by.

      • It wasn’t full but it had a decent turn out. I know people should definitely be watching this. Now more than ever.Did you hear the Pope invited a lot of Hollywood stars to the Vatican to help better the image of the Church in Western Media. Michael Keaton turned down his offer like a lad haha

      • That is good to hear. My showing was pretty bare. I did find it interesting that many within the Catholic Church are applauding the film. For me it is simply an important movie to see as well as filmmaking in top form.

    • Without question. This was a really big surprise for me. Didn’t expect such a strong and thoroughly enthralling picture. I love it when movies fly under the radar and catch me by surprise.

      • Is it safe to say it’s the current front runner for Best Picture? Haven’t seen Carol, but talk is big for that one too…

      • It will be interesting to see who it stacks up against. I have heard some people calling this a prestige film almost insinuating that this was made with Oscar in mind. I disagree with that sentiment on every level. This is much more than that.

  4. Oh man, I just had to refollow you. WordPress is really dropping the ball lately.
    I’m often a little skeptical of journalism movies myself, but this one is a powerhouse.

    • I’ve been annoyed at some of the WordPress hiccups recently have been frustrating.

      You are so right about some journalism movies. They can be pretty tough watches. But the really good ones are treats. This is one of the really great ones and I’m so glad to see it getting good press!

  5. OMG, you’ve seen this already? I’m gutted that I missed the press screening but man, but now I’m even more keen in seeing this after reading your review!

    • I LOVED IT Ruth. Only 5 star review I’ve given this year. It is one of the smartest and more fluid scripts I’ve seen in a while and the cast is superb. I know you like Keaton and Ruffalo (I think?). They are fantastic here but so is everyone else. This is a special one.

      • I LOVE Keaton, Ruffalo and Liev Schreiber, but I also love films about journalism. You’ve seen All The President’s Men right? I LOVE that one and I read some reviews that have been comparing this to that film.

      • There is a strong comparison to be made between the two films. This one MAY even be a tad better? I know that may be a bit much but it’s definitely in the conversation.

        Oh and Schreiber is so good. I really low-key understated performance that perfectly serves his character.

  6. A 5-star review makes the wait for next week even more difficult for me now! Great review Keith, I have to say I think this must be the best-reviewed movie of 2015. It’s either this or Brooklyn.

    • Thanks Tom. When I wrapped up the review I literally could not think of a good reason not to give it five stars. I tried. I don’t give those things out very often. Ultimately I was too blown away by the movie – everything about it. From the cast to the story itself to the amazing script. I’m going to be really anxious to hear what you think about it.

  7. Really excited to see this, cast looks tremendous and I’m glad they’ve taken a less showy approach to a less showy profession (at its best). Still got a few months until its release in the UK unfortunately! Great review Keith.

    • Thanks Adam. This flick is getting a lot of comparisons to “All the Presidents’s Men”. I really like that film, but regardless of how bold it sounds, I do believe this is a better movie. Definitely check it out.

    • You’re exactly right. That’s one of the reasons I was so thrilled with this one. This is a fabulous flick and you really should see it whenever you get a chance.

  8. I saw this trailer the other day and was hooked! Love the cast and I’m so glad you reviewed it. It’s one I want to see very much. (Watched ‘All the President’s Men’ the other day and was reminded how journalism can really alter history).

    • It is superb. A serious and potent true story but the brilliance of the filmmaking and of the script is what blew me away. Nothing flashy about it. Just top-notch storytelling. Hope you get to see it soon.

      • You saw it at a cinema? I don’t think this one is going to play down under, I might have to wait until it is on Netflix or somewhere else online. Which sucks because the more you say about this movie the more I want to watch it

      • Yep, in the theater. Just released here. The whole release issue sucks. I would love for you to be able to check it out. It deserves a big audience.

      • Yeah its a bit crappy. I’m used to it now but it still sucks knowing that I won’t see the Jobs movie till next year, and who knows when I’ll be able to see this or something like ‘Room’ which also isn’t playing here. It makes me wish I lived abroad so often!

    • I absolutely loved it Khalid! Do you like journalism/investigative reporting pictures in the same vein as “All the President’s Men”? If so this will please you.

      I have heard some actually negatively referring to it as a prestige movie. That’s really unfair. It is more than that for sure.

      • I do Keith.
        All the Presidents Men, not so much. But The Insider, I think is really great. Zodiac and Shattered Glass are two more great films about journalism. So I have a feeling I might dig this.

  9. finally saw it and loved it! definitely one of the best of the year and deserving of all the praise. this really can win best picture and it wont be a controversial win either 🙂

    great review Keith

  10. Pingback: The Top 10 Films of 2015 | Keith & the Movies

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