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‘Spotlight’ is One of the Year’s Best

Let me state this plainly: Spotlight is one of the best films of the year. In its film festival showings it has drawn comparison to another great movie, All the President’s Men, and understandably so. It dramatizes a real-life chapter in recent history of journalists working long and hard to break a difficult story. Reporters are the movie’s heroes, and it’s clear that director Tom McCarthy and his writing partner Josh Singer are celebrating the kind of journalism that is threatened with extinction today. Yet Spotlight is anything but elegiac: it is too busy recreating the dogged determination and patience of its protagonists as they gather the evidence they need to reveal a volatile story.

Set in 2001 and early 2002, Spotlight follows the Globe’s investigative team, led by Michael Keaton, as they follow every possible lead to expose the story of sexual abuse in Boston’s Catholic diocese. They know it’s true but they’re not sure how widespread it is, at first, or how long church leaders have known about it. Evidence of a cover-up is as disturbing as the events that predicated the need for such action.

Like All the President’s Men, the film is less about the scandal than it is the effort to uncover it. Along the way, we learn how different reporters—played with passion and conviction by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian D’Arcy James—attack the assignment, using their strengths to break down potential sources, whether that means demanding court records or canvassing a neighborhood one door at a time. Keaton uses his influence to approach high-level sources—including close friends—who want nothing to do with the investigation. Liev Schreiber plays the newly-installed editor-in-chief of the paper who backs his team as they spend months digging for evidence in a city where the church has uncommon power and control.

 

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Photo by Kerry Hayes – Courtesy of Open Road Films

Director McCarthy paces his film like a thriller and that’s just how it plays out. Knowing the outcome takes nothing away from the feeling of suspense and unease that he creates along the way. The film turns unexpectedly moving when we meet the first of many victims (who prefer to be called survivors) of pedophilia and see how he has been scarred by the experience.

The fact that there are stars in the leading roles doesn’t distract in the slightest, because they are so convincing; nearly all of them got to meet the people they’re portraying, which couldn’t have hurt. The cast is filled out with expert actors like Stanley Tucci, Len Cariou, Billy Crudup, Paul Guilfoyle, and Jamey Sheridan, who bring their A-game to this juicy material.

Writer-director McCarthy is one of my favorite filmmakers: The Station Agent, The Visitor, and the underappreciated Win Win are among his credits. He’s also a busy actor and worked on the story of Pixar’s Up. This may well be his best work to date. The early awards “buzz” for Spotlight is not misplaced; it’s a terrific film and a must-see.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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