The investigative thriller is a great subgenre that doesn’t receive the attention that it deserves. Part of the reason for this might be because these films work best when they’re based on a true story. Probably the greatest film that falls into this category is 1976’s All the Presidents Men. That film looked at how the Washington Post investigated the Watergate Scandal and it continues to shed new light on a topic that is taught in history classes across the country. Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight feels like the modern day equivalent to that film. It’s portrayal of how the Boston Globe uncovered the Catholic priest child molestation scandal is truly engaging and also devastatingly realistic. It’s definitely one of the year’s best films, but it’s also a film that covers such dark subject matter that it feels like it takes a piece out of you.

The year is 2001 and the Spotlight section of the Boston Globe is working on a case to expose some form of corruption with the Boston Police Department. The team is led by veteran reporter Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) who is welcoming in Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) the newspaper’s new editor. When a piece of information arises that implicates a Catholic priest in a charge of child molestation, Baron encourages the paper to investigate this piece of information. Most of the reporters at the paper are initially skeptical of pursuing this route because they don’t want to offend their mostly Catholic subscribers. But as they continue to dig up more information, the reporters of Spotlight soon begin to realize that they’ve stumbled onto one of the largest scandals of the 21st century.

Two hours of investigative reporting might not sound like exciting cinema, but Spotlight moves forward at a propulsive pace that keeps you engaged from beginning to end. The film covers some heavy material and you become absolutely invested in these reporters discovering the truth. It’s shocking to think that something so horrible was going on for such a long period of time, but there were plenty of institutions who helped bury the truth. It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to keep a secret this big and organizations all over Boston helped keep the truth under wraps. It’s people like the reporters at the Boston Globe that keep these institutions in check.

And the cast successfully brings all of these reporters to life. Michael Keaton is nothing short of fantastic in his role as Walter Robinson. From his mannerisms to his subtle Boston accent, Keaton nails every nuance of Robinson and delivers a performance that is sure to score him his second Oscar nomination in two years. Rachel McAdams shines as Sacha Pfeiffer, particularly in the relationship that she shares with her grandmother. Pfeiffer’s grandmother is a devout Catholic and it’s really interesting to see how their relationship changes throughout the film. Brian d’Arcy James might not be an A-lister like the rest of the cast, but he more than holds his own as reporter Matt Carroll. The highlight for his character occurs when he discovers that a rehabilitation center for abusive priests is located only a few houses down from his own. Liev Schreiber also stands out as the Globe’s new editor, as does Stanley Tucci as short-fused lawyer Mitchell Garabedian. If there’s a weak spot in the cast, it’s unfortunately Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo’s a great actor, but his Boston accent feels forced and sticks out in a bad way.

By the time Spotlight reaches its conclusion, you really feel like you’ve experienced the incredible amount of effort that went towards this story. And the final seconds of the film are absolutely phenomenal, ending off on a truly dark note that will have audiences shaking as they leave the theater. People may tell you that this is an important film and while that sounds cliché, it’s absolutely true. When we read about stories like this one in the paper, we rarely hear about the extensive amount of reporting and research that brought out the truth. You may think you know the story, but Spotlight places this scandal in a whole new light.

Spotlight receives 4/4

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