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story.lead_photo.caption Boston Globe “Spotlight’’ editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) walks and talks with reporter Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) in Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight.

There could be no more fitting hymn to in-depth print-based investigative reporting than Tom McCarthy's riveting, fact-based journalism procedural, Spotlight. The drama concerns the investigative reporters for the Boston Globe, writing for the paper's "Spotlight" section, in 2001 who were the first to uncover the massive pedophile cover-up perpetrated by the Catholic Church for decades, a scandal that eventually roiled the institution all the way to the Vatican.

The significance is obvious, but what makes the film so powerful is actually the way it keeps its field of scope narrowed like a laser beam, not on the protagonists, or their inner lives, but on the job they're doing. It might be the first journalism drama in history -- or at least since All the President's Men -- that derives much of its tension from the equivalent of watching reporters sitting at their desks, walking the beat and talking on the phone.

Spotlight

91 Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schrieber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup

Director: Tom McCarthy

Rating: R, for language including sexual references

Running time: 128 minutes

The film doesn't offer platitudes or wide-ranging, melodramatic moments. No editor suddenly stands up and tearfully monologues the importance of speaking truth to their readers. Instead, it keeps with the nuts-and-bolts grind of building a story from the ground up. Don't expect climactic battles or dramatic shouting matches; just appreciate the contemplative scenes of journalists doing their jobs.

We meet the newsroom indirectly, as Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), a new editor-in-chief from Miami, is installed by the publisher (John Slattery). An obvious outsider, Baron is met at first with healthy skepticism, by Spotlight editor Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton), but when one priest is embroiled in a small-scale molestation accusation, Baron, on a hunch, authorizes the investigative team to follow up on the story.

Initially unimpressed with the idea, Robinson spools it out to his writing staff, including Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), a haunted, marble-mouthed mutt; Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James), a quietly dogged family man; and Sacha Pfieffer (Rachel McAdams), an Ohio transplant whose mother is a Southie and a strong supporter of the Catholic Church.

Together, the team begins the arduous task of unmasking the church's unforgivable policy of covering up for their troubled criminal priests. It's an exceedingly difficult task, especially given the church's stature within the Boston community, controlling nearly every aspect of the city, from its politicians and lawyers to its law enforcement. For decades, it enjoyed a nearly unchallenged regime of unmarked malfeasance, while virtually everyone, including the families of the victims, were induced to look the other way. Brick by brick, the team begins to assemble their story, even as the pressure from church officials, and their fear of being scooped by the arch-rival Boston Herald, intensifies.

McCarthy has had a wild ride as a filmmaker, beginning with his debut feature back in 2003, The Station Agent. The popular actor (Meet the Parents, The Wire) turned writer/director enjoyed critical success with his next pair of films, The Visitor (2007)and Win Win (2011), both of which continued the strong work from his debut. In each film, McCarthy's acting chops helped him pull exceptional performances from his talented cast, often with one main protagonist becoming the primary beneficiary: Peter Dinklage in Station, Richard Jenkins in Visitor, and Paul Giamatti in Win. But then The Cobbler happened.

Released last year, the ill-begotten film starred Adam Sandler as a bored shoe repairman who discovers a way to stand in his clients' shoes and literally see the world through their ways. Striving for poetic fable, the film instead got absolutely massacred by critics (9 percent rating on rottentomatoes.com), and many feared the subtle, nuanced ministrations of the director were being lost to sentimental whimsy of a Shyamalanian order. It turns out there was nothing at all to worry about, though the leap from his previous film to this one might be unprecedented. It's as if Francis Ford Coppola followed up Jack with The Conversation.

Spotlight is many things -- including an obvious Oscar favorite, for those keeping track of such items -- but never the least bit tentative or sentimentalized. In lieu of a single protagonist's journey, McCarthy has rightfully expanded his reach to a tight ensemble of performers, choosing the story to take precedence over anyone's individual efforts. The result is as fascinating and moving a film as you will see this year.

As you can imagine, the film offers no solutions, but it ends with a list of other cities across the world whose newspapers followed the Globe's lead and published exposes of the church's practices in their communities. As the list continues on and on (and on, it's shockingly widespread), it becomes increasingly obvious just how significant the work of the Spotlight team became.

MovieStyle on 11/20/2015

Print Headline: Spotlight

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