The list of plausible Oscar frontrunners for 2015 has been pretty short up until now, so the arrival of Spotlight has been heralded by critics and audiences alike. The title refers to a four-person team at the Boston Globe called “Spotlight” that works on special investigative projects; the movie focuses on their Pulitzer Prize winning efforts 13 years ago to uncover a vile sex abuse scandal involving the local Roman Catholic Church. Aside from exposing several dozen pedophile priests, even worse was how these crimes against more than 1,000 children were covered up for several decades by a conspiracy involving the Church and many high-ranking members of Boston’s legal and government establishment.
It’s hard not to think of the Watergate classic All The President’s Men when watching Spotlight, as both films celebrate the work of dedicated journalists who toil for months but with no guarantee of success. Dusty records are checked, endless phone calls placed, and reluctant witnesses interviewed by the four dogged reporters. Aside from the discouragement of many false leads they are further challenged by an uncertain work environment: one boss thinks the story is a mirage fed by the fantasies of lapsed-Catholic cranks, and the paper itself has just acquired a new editor parachuted in from Florida who admits that part of his mandate is to reduce manpower. How sympathetic will he be to an expensive team on a possibly foolhardy mission?
The movie’s director, Thomas McCarthy (The Station Agent), eschews visual flash, and his minimalism gives maximum latitude to a superb ensemble cast to create compelling characters (the actual journalists have praised the exceptional accuracy of the performances and the story). Whether it’s the slightly weary head of Spotlight (Michael Keaton), the enigmatic new editor (Liev Schreiber), the waspish and over-worked attorney (Stanley Tucci) quixotically representing a huge number of abuse survivors – as well as the unctuous Cardinal Law (Len Cariou) and his creepy enablers (Paul Guilfoyle, Billy Crudup) who have convinced themselves they’re doing the right thing – these characters, noble or ignoble, are all utterly convincing. Understated in style but searing with its emotional honesty, Spotlight illuminates the hard work of investigative journalism while meticulously recreating a story that had global resonance.
Stars Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Stanley Tucci.
Directed by Thomas McCarthy
By The Sea
Angelina Jolie directs herself and hubby Brad Pitt in a drama about a crumbling marriage. Expect edgy chemistry and a visual style reminiscent of a European art film.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
What’s really going to awaken is the box office, as zillions of impatient fans queue up to take a trip to a galaxy far, far away courtesy of hip director J.J. Abrams (who finessed the Star Trek reboot).
Acting phenom Jennifer Lawrence reunites with director David O. Russell (American Hustle) in a drama about a struggling woman who becomes a successful entrepreneur. Costarring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro.
Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) stars as renowned screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who became a victim of the infamous blacklist in Hollywood during the 1940s commie witch hunts of the McCarthy era. With Helen Mirren and John Goodman.