Good old-fashioned journalism drama about the four Boston Globe reporters who in early 2002 broke the story about widespread pedophilia and conspiracy in the Catholic church, opening the public's eyes to one of the biggest scandals in recent history.
McCarthy, a sometime actor who's made a bigger name for himself as a director of thoughtful, adult-oriented indies like The Station Agent and Win Win, has assembled a dream cast that includes Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, and a host of talented unknowns led by Brian d'Arcy James. All deliver realistic, no-nonsense performances. Nothing is romanticized about who their characters are or what they do; you really get the sense that this is how a newspaper office truly looked and operated, at least in 2001.
Spotlight is so low-key, in fact, that in its early stages it's a little humdrum. However, this eventually becomes an effective counterpoint to the horrific discoveries of what dozens of priests in the Boston archdiocese had done to children for decades, and how Cardinal Bernard Law, among other higher-ups in the church, relentlessly protected those priests in order to cover their own powerful asses.
The script pays such strict attention to the reporters' job demands, from fact-checking to deadlines to getting sidetracked by competing stories (such as 9/11, which happened two months into the Spotlight team's investigation), that there's not much time to linger on the most depressing aspects of their story – for better or worse. In the end, the film may not arouse anger and outrage like documentaries such as Deliver Us from Evil, but perhaps McCarthy was aware that this emotional ground had already been covered, so what he wanted to do instead was make an All the President's Men for a new generation. That he has. Though there is one difference: whereas the newspaper industry was still going strong when All the President's Men was released in 1976, Spotlight is an elegy for this dying institution. One simple establishing shot, of an enormous AOL billboard perched next to the Globe's half-empty parking lot, speaks volumes.