‘Spotlight’ Sticks to the Story

Wall Street Journal

Updated Oct. 29, 2015

Director Tom McCarthy and his fellow screenwriter Josh Singer knew they had a compelling story with “Spotlight.” The trick was turning it into a riveting movie.

In 2001, reporters at the Boston Globe investigated child sexual abuse by area priests and a coverup by the archdiocese. The articles the newspaper published, beginning in January 2002, led to similar revelations around the world.

The filmmakers had broad themes to work with, such as the abuse itself, the inaction of those who knew something was wrong and the importance of local investigative journalism.

Nonetheless, these rich subjects could yield a dry, procedural story about a team of reporters embarking on a six-month investigation where breakthroughs emerge from legal filings, interviews and library research. The movie dramatizes the experiences of people who tend to be sticklers for accuracy (lawyers, journalists, victims and accused), at a time when other recent films about contemporary people (like “ Steve Jobs” and Mr. Singer’s earlier screenplay, “The Fifth Estate,” about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks) have been called out for playing with facts to heighten the drama.

“I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t scared,” Mr. Singer said. He and Mr. McCarthy (who directed and wrote the funny dramas “Win Win” and “The Station Agent”) could have oversimplified or altered the investigation story. Instead, they chose to include many journalists who were part of the project rather than ignore them for the convenience of the movie.

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