‘Spotlight’: The Story Behind Tom McCarthy’s ‘Love Letter to Investigative Journalism’


James Rainey
Senior Film Reporter

That doesn’t exactly make a newspaper an obvious backdrop for a movie — or a ripe setting for praiseworthy endeavors. Yet “Spotlight” places journalists and the printed word shamelessly front and center, celebrating a quiet kind of heroism. No wonder preview and festival audiences are chock-full of ink-stained wretches swelling with pride and affirmation.

But it’s not mere nostalgia that has put director Tom McCarthy’s fifth film prominently in the conversation for best picture and multiple other potential honors this awards season. What’s making “Spotlight” the “it” movie of the moment, even prior to its Nov. 6 theatrical debut, is that it has pre-release audiences talking not just about journalism and freedom of the press, but about the Catholic Church, Pope Francis’ stance on the plague of sexual abuse by priests and even about the bounds of faith.

With an ensemble cast led by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber, the movie tells the real-life story of the Boston Globe’s four-member investigative reporting team (aka Spotlight) which uncovered the scandal and massive cover-up of child molestation within the local Catholic Archdiocese beginning in 2001.

A throwback in more than just its setting (the Globe newsroom), the production (backed by Open Road Films) evokes filmmaking of another era. The story is notable for eschewing the building blocks of today’s most popular movies — CGI pyrotechnics, comic-book superheroes, sex and violence.

Instead, the script, co-written by McCarthy and Josh Singer, advances character and plot gradually and assuredly. “Spotlight” is a slow burn. The investigation gets sidetracked. The journalists are flawed. But they are the only ones in a position to hold a powerful institution accountable for its greatest failing. With a monolithic adversary and children as the victims, the filmmakers establish a powerful rooting interest among the audience.

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