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"SPOTLIGHT "
(2015) (Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: An investigative team from the Boston Globe tries to expose the Catholic Church as being complicit with systemic cover-ups of child abuse committed by its priests.
PLOT:
It's 2001 and Marty Baron (LIEV SCHREIBER) has become the first Jewish editor of the Boston Globe. One of that paper's best investigative units is Spotlight, headed by editor Walter "Robby" Robinson (MICHAEL KEATON) and featuring the crackerjack reporting team of Michael Rezendes (MARK RUFFALO), Sacha Pfeiffer (RACHEL McADAMS) and Matt Carrol (BRIAN D'ARCY JAMES). Despite having a majority Catholic readership of the paper, Marty not only wants Spotlight to investigate allegations about a local priest having abused scores of children, but also prove that local Cardinal Bernard Law (LEN CARIOU) knew about this and covered it up.

Others have tried the same, including a past victim, Phil Saviano (NEAL HUFF), who's created a support group for fellow past victims, and attorney Mitchell Garabedian (STANLEY TUCCI) who's unsuccessfully tried to prosecute such individual cases, only to run into resistance not only from the Church, but also those in the close-knit community. Working with the Globe's deputy managing editor, Ben Bradlee, Jr. (JOHN SLATTERY), the Spotlight team starts digging into the story.

That includes trying to get info from lawyer Eric MacLeish (BILLY CRUDUP) who's already privately settled various such cases but obviously is reluctant to talk about any, while Michael eventually convinces Mitchell to arrange interviews with other victims including Patrick McSorley (JIMMY LeBLANC) and Joe Crowley (MICHAEL CYRIL CREIGHTON).

At the same time, Robby runs into resistance from his friend Jim Sullivan (JAMEY SHERIDAN) who serves as a lawyer for the Church, as well as the likes of Peter Conley (PAUL GUILFOYLE) who try to convince the editor that it would be best if the investigation didn't continue. As the team uncovers more victims and evidence of a system of cover-ups, they must contend with the Church trying to stop them, all while they want to expose far more than just the priests or even Cardinal Law.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
When I sat down to watch our very early press screening of "Spotlight" -- the dramatic tale revolving around the efforts a decade ago of the Boston Globe investigating allegations of priests abusing children and that of the Catholic Church trying to cover that up -- Pope Francis had just wrapped up his visit to the U.S., including a few days right here in D.C.

To those who haven't followed the relatively new Pope that closely, some would probably sarcastically joke that he got out of Dodge, so to speak, just in time before the screening of the film that doesn't exactly show his Church in the most favorable light.

Thankfully, Pope Francis has proven to be a breath of fresh air for the Church, and has addressed that past disgrace, likely prompting Vatican Radio to praise the movie, and even Cardinal Sean O'Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston reportedly gave it credit for addressing the Church's "shameful and hidden" past.

That's a slightly different reaction than the Globe's investigatory team, Spotlight, received back in 2001 when they started digging into allegations of local abuse in Boston. Their investigation ultimately revealed a systemic problem, eventually earning the paper a Pulitzer for their reporting.

Those efforts now play out in this terrific film that will likely remind many a viewer -- if old enough or a big film fan -- of "All the President's Men" from back in 1976 regarding the Washington Post's investigation of Watergate. That political thriller was based on the 1974 non-fiction book of the same name by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.

Surprisingly, the story of the Globe's efforts and struggles to dig deep enough into scandal never got the book treatment (either by those involved in the work or an outside observer), so writer/director Tom McCarthy and co-scribe Josh Singer crafted their script to honor the men and women behind the work.

Thankfully, the likes of those on the team (Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Brian D'Arcy James, their boss (John Slattery) the paper's new (and first-time Jewish) editor (Liev Schreiber) aren't portrayed as angelic do-gooders or religion-bashers. Instead, they're presented as a realistic investigative team at a newspaper simply doing their job and not backing down from the Church or its supporters and defenders.

In its structure, the pic plays out like a police detective drama where a crime has been committed and the protagonists set out to interview victims and witnesses (including a bristly lawyer played by Stanley Tucci), dig for details, and uncover cover-ups, all to nail the perps. If you enjoy watching such investigatory dramas and the setbacks and challenges that arise within them, along with steadfast determination on the part of those on the side of good, you'll likely easily get into what's offered here.

The performances from all involved are solid to good (the ensemble of assembled talent is nothing short of terrific) even if some of the periphery characters -- such as Billy Crudup as an opportunistic and increasingly defensive lawyer -- aren't given much time or material to become fully fleshed out. That's just a minor complaint, however, with the filmmakers keeping most everything tight, lean and on point, with characters we end up rooting for to succeed (all while honoring such journalists who are disappearing all too fast in today's ever-shrinking newspaper staff world).

How you ultimately view the film could depend on how you view the Catholic Church. If you think it's bad or riddled with corruption and cover-ups, you'll likely dig it being the subject matter, being exposed and sort of taken down. If you're defensive and think the Church can do no wrong, you'll likely feel quite differently.

The best advice is probably to watch it like Pope Francis likely would, with an open mind and hopes that it will bring such problems to light and hopefully make such abuse a thing of the past. "Spotlight" is pretty terrific and thus rates as a 7.5 out of 10.




Reviewed September 28, 2015 / Posted November 13, 2015


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