As any member of the profession will tell you, journalism is hard work. However, it has been imperfectly represented in film. By far, the best film representation of journalism is “All the President’s Men.” By delving into the nitty gritty of journalism that was frustrating, tiring and plenty of other things, the movie translated print journalism into something vital onscreen. While its Best Picture win was something of a surprise, watching the film makes it clear why it won. It’s the best film about journalism since “All the President’s Men.”
It’s 2001, and the “Boston Globe” just got a new editor named Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). When he comes in, we find the Spotlight team working on a relatively minor case until Baron points them towards a cardinal who did nothing regarding a priest who committed sexual abuse. The Spotlight team then reveals more and more layers about what’s happening in the Catholic Church, and after Baron’s pushing, develops the story into one that targets the system of the Church. It’s a process that takes them many months, interrupted by 9/11, but eventually their story gets published in the front page of the “Globe” in January 2002.
The epilogue of the film tells about how the problem was/is so much bigger than Boston. It says that over 600 stories about the scandal were published by the “Globe,” and the film provides a list of many of the different places where the scandal has reached, not just in the U.S. but internationally as well.
What makes this film such a valuable document about journalism is that it’s willing to show the audience how much work it takes to produce good journalism. The Spotlight team runs into numerous challenges, including Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) trying to convince Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), a lawyer that’s been involved with Catholic Church sex abuse cases, to open up the court documents so that they could be used for their story. The work they do is demanding, but it was worth it in the end.
Apart from its stellar representation of journalism, the film boasts some excellent work as well. Tom McCarthy’s focused, confident direction (working with a script by McCarthy and Josh Singer) keeps the film from veering into unnecessary tangents. However, praise to the cast knows no bounds. Michael Keaton as Walter “Robby” Robinson, the head of the Spotlight team, has a steely resolve that helps show his dedication to the story. Ruffalo earned an Oscar nod for his performance as the lapsed Catholic Rezendes, and he deserved it. The clip they showed at the Oscars where Rezendes fights with Robinson’s decision to withhold publishing a story about the cardinal’s knowledge of the sex abuse and covering it up is some of Ruffalo’s most impassioned acting to date. Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer, the only woman on the Spotlight team, brings empathy and dedication to her role. The other cast members, including Schreiber and Tucci, are terrific as well.
“Spotlight” has been out on DVD and Blu-Ray since Feb., so if you’ve had a chance to see it, then you’re lucky. If you haven’t, watching it will help you understand why “Spotlight” deserved the awards it accrued. Equally as important, the films shows not only that journalism is still critically important in our world (the Panama Papers are another friendly reminder of that), but that great films about journalism are still possible.