‘Spotlight’ celebrates a vanishing form of journalism and of filmmaking

Washington Post

By Ann Hornaday October 30

There’s a brief montage in “Spotlight,” a drama about the Boston Globe’s 2002 coverage of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, that neatly sums up the film’s overriding ethos: After a Globe reporter asks a newsroom librarian for clips regarding a particular story, a sequence of shots portrays the request being fulfilled, as a researcher goes through yellowed newspaper excerpts, cranks balky spools of microfilm, prints out the results, compiles it all in a file and delivers the bundle by way of a rickety basket cart.

By conventional cinematic standards, the sequence is far from thrilling. But within the world that “Spotlight” creates — a world of reporters doggedly doing their jobs with little fanfare or immediate gratification, before Google was the all-knowing behemoth it is today — it’s a soaring ode to minutiae that makes riveting cinema out of journalism’s least dramatic moments.

For Tom McCarthy, who co-wrote and directed “Spotlight,” that montage holds the key to whether his film — and the rigor and attention to detail with which he made it — will succeed or fail with viewers. Noting that his decision to go deep into the daily grind of reporting was “a huge gamble,” he said, “I felt like if [the clips] started to operate at the right level, if the audience was connecting with those, then we really succeeded with the movie.”

So far, it looks like the bet is paying off: “Spotlight” made a triumphant debut earlier this fall at three festivals in Venice, Telluride and Toronto, emerging as a critical favorite and Oscar front-runner. In late November its cast — which includes Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber — will receive a special ensemble acting citation at New York’s Gotham Awards, an early harbinger of awards-season heat.

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