Oscar-winning drama puts the ‘Spotlight’ on journalism

Movie Review

Michael Keaton

At a time when journalism is under fire on a number of fronts, “Spotlight” is a worthy reminder of the profession’s nobility.

The Oscar-winning best picture of 2015 — which Showtime presents Thursday, June 23 — recounts the true story of a Boston newspaper team’s pursuit of those who enabled priests’ alleged abuse of youngsters. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian D’Arcy James are all excellent as their Boston paper’s elite, so-called Spotlight unit, given the relative luxury of weeks or months to work on their investigative stories.

Their publication’s then-new managing editor, the legendary Marty Baron (played by Liev Schreiber), initially questions their having so much time … but he pushes for the abuse probe, no matter whose feathers he might ruffle when he’s already seen as an outsider. The story is quite personal for most of the reporters, since they either were altar boys or steady churchgoers who now find their faith in question.

Director Tom McCarthy also co-wrote the Academy Award-honored script for “Spotlight,” which authentically captures the tale’s physical environment and also treats the business of reporting realistically. In some cases, sources prove problematic, or their representatives (notably a lawyer portrayed by Stanley Tucci) try to stonewall the journalists.

John Slattery (“Mad Men”), Paul Guilfoyle, Billy Crudup, Len Cariou (“Blue Bloods”) and Jamey Sheridan are among other members of the impeccable “Spotlight” ensemble. Each major cast member gets his or her moment, with Ruffalo arguably giving the showiest performance, but Keaton impressively folds himself in as a member of the group — underplaying just as is called for, quite an achievement for someone who typically stands out, whether that’s the mission or not.

One of the biggest shocks of “Spotlight” is how many more similar cases of abuse were exposed across the country and around the world as a result of the reporting team’s efforts. That’s revealed in a series of on-screen displays at the end of the film, and the numbers they indicate are alarming, to say the least.

Still, “Spotlight” is an extremely accessible drama, thanks both to the very linear style of the screenplay and the likability of the central cast. You feel their frustration as their alter egos try to accomplish their shared goal, especially in scenes such as that of McAdams literally getting doors shut in her face.

As explosive as its subject is, “Spotlight” is commendably low-key, only enhancing the power of what it covers. Of the best pictures of recent years, it genuinely is one of the best.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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