Entertainment·MOVIE REVIEW

Spotlight a whip-smart retelling of clergy molestation exposé

Actor-filmmaker Tom McCarthy makes waves with a deft, deliberate piece of movie-making that condenses the complexities of the Boston Globe's earth-shattering exposé of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church into two hours of whip-smart entertainment, says CBC's Eli Glasner.

'A smart look at a shocking story that doesn’t spoon-feed anything to the audience,' says Eli Glasner

Spotlight revisits Boston Globe's clergy abuse exposé

6 years ago
Spotlight is a deft film that condenses a complex story into two hours of whip-smart entertainment, says CBC's film critic Eli Glasner 2:58

Like the investigative reporters the movie documents, Spotlight is a film that is as unsexy as it is determined. This is a story about corruption and conspiracy; about a cloud of complicity that settles around Boston — thicker than those accents Hollywood just can't get enough of. 

The title comes from the name of the investigative unit at the Boston Globe. The film focuses on a group of four reporters who, in 2001, spent months chasing down details, cross-referencing cases and poring over court documents to expose how the Catholic Church covered up multiple cases of sexual abuse.

Watch Eli Glasner's review of Spotlight in the video

The heroes are a collection of the most drab, disheveled reporters you've ever seen — there's no Clark Kent. 

Instead, you have Mark Ruffalo as Mike, a dogged reporter with a Caesar-style haircut and eyes that catalog everything in an instant. Rachel McAdams appears as Sacha: determined and always listening. Michael Keaton is the head of the unit and coach of this team, who is fighting his own battles with Boston's upper crust. John Slattery, with his wonderfully chaotic shock of white hair, represents institutional inertia inside the newspaper. 

Spotlight rests on the talents of its impressive ensemble cast including, from left, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d’Arcy, Michael Keaton and John Slattery. (Kerry Hayes/Entertainment One)

Liev Schreiber is Marty, the new editor-in-chief: a Jew from Miami and the outsider who pushed his reporters to reopen an old story. Finally, Stanley Tucci appears as an Armenian-born lawyer who is cantankerous and hardened by his endless battle with Boston's archdiocese.

There is only one word for this expansive array of talent: ensemble. Spotlight is a group effort through and through. It's the only way to show the kind of manpower that was needed to grapple with decades of deception.

Tom McCarthy is the man responsible for this stirring bit of cinema. A director who has portrayed a reporter himself (The Wire), he's plugged along quietly for years, releasing a series of understated films that nonetheless showcase actors at their best: a young Peter Dinklage in The Station Agent, the stifled agony of Richard Jenkins in The Visitor, the empathy of Paul Giamatti's wrestling coach in Win Win.

'A deft, deliberate piece of movie-making that highlights the power of the medium, Spotlight condenses a massively complex issue into two hours of whip-smart entertainment.' — Eli Glasner

Spotlight is the film McCarthy has been building towards. A deft, deliberate piece of movie-making that highlights the power of the medium, Spotlight condenses a massively complex issue into two hours of whip-smart entertainment. It zooms into minute details — the hushed voices in hallways as the Church fights back, the hesitancy of victims speaking up for themselves or a close-up of a spreadsheet as the number of priests under suspicion grows from a handful into dozens. 

But it also pulls back to give us the wider view of this city of 1,500 priests, the challenges facing a newspaper with a 53 per cent Catholic subscriber base and how so many institutions just looked the other way.

Simply put, this is the kind of film Hollywood doesn't make anymore: a smart look at a shocking story that doesn't spoon-feed anything to the audience. It's a tale of one institution uncovering the rot in another. Spotlight deserves to be seen.   

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.


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