'Spotlight' tells the story of a special investigative team that uncovered
a pattern of child abuse within the Catholic archdiocese of Boston
SHINE A LIGHT: The "Spotlight" team was a group of deep investigative reporters based in a windowless room at the Globe.

With tremendous cynicism, the Catholic archdiocese of Boston concealed the actions of dozens of priests who were known to be serial pedophiles—a story exposed by the Boston Globe in a Pulitzer-winning series in 2002. It's hard to imagine a film approaching this subject without fury, but Spotlight is one such movie—and one honors the film's lack of thundering about the horror of it all. This film lets its audience bring their own anger.

In the year 2001, the "Spotlight" team was a group of deep investigative reporters based in a windowless room at the Globe. It's leader is Walter "Robby" Robinson (Michael Keaton). Keaton can be a glorious minimalist as an actor, and seeing the flickers in his face, one can imagine (just as when he was Batman) that he'd be a hard man to lie to. A chilly new editor enters the scene—Liev Schrieber's Marty Barton. This cold fish in wire-rim spectacles has one advantage. As a Jew from out of state, he's not part of the Boston Irish milieu in which the politicians, the police and the church are entangled.

The movie insists on the importance of keeping hysteria out of the newsroom. Of the crew of newspaper reporters we see here, only Mark Ruffalo's Mike Rezendes gets seriously exerted—he gets the runaround when he discovers that the Church can somehow reach into the public hall of records and remove embarrassing material from its files. Rachel McAdams' Sacha Pfeiffer is an expert at finding leads, from unearthing a senile priest who confesses all, to coaxing the truth out of a molestation victim.

The top-drawer cast includes Len Cariou as Cardinal Law, and Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup as lawyers of very different ethical standards. Director Tom McCarthy has made a few small character studies such as Win-Win and The Station Agent. This is his first great movie: an intricate, well-pulsed film, a model of cool handling of inflammatory subject matter. No Sorkin-ist nose-to-nose scenes here.

And McCarthy is a master of details. In a scene set in the Globe's morgue preparing a file for the reporters—McCarthy watches the process step by step—we see Spotlight as a tribute to the vanishing world of how news was once gathered. It might be easier to forgive the Catholic Church than it is to forgive the Wall Streeters who gutted these papers of record.

R; 128 Mins.

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