At its best, investigative journalism is a scalpel that slices through fatty rhetoric and cuts readers to the bones of institutions that should be defending our interests.
In early 2002, the Spotlight Investigations team of the Boston Globe ran a series of meticulously researched articles, exposing the sexual abuse of minors in the Boston archdiocese.
Coverage of the scandal rippled far beyond the city and compelled other victims to come forward, which sent shockwaves through the Roman Catholic Church.
The newspaper was subsequently awarded the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in Journalism for its courageous and comprehensive coverage, which lifted a heavy veil of secrecy stretching back several decades.
Thomas McCarthy’s impeccably crafted drama pays tribute to the close-knit team of tenacious editors and reporters who tirelessly pursued the ugly truth and wrung their sweat and tears into the exposés.
Deputy managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr (John Slattery) presides over the Boston Globe newsroom and has direct responsibility for the Spotlight team led by Walter “Robby’’ Robinson (Michael Keaton).
Down in the basement, Robby and colleagues Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy) invest thousands of man hours following leads.
Their work is valuable, but costly, and incoming Boston Globe editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) makes clear he is willing to make difficult cuts.
“I’m focused on finding a way to make this paper essential to its readers,” he says.
The team is mired in a potentially explosive story.
Attorney Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) claims to have documents which prove Cardinal Bernard Law (Len Cariou) knew about abuse within the diocese and did nothing.
Marty authorises Robby to quietly pursue the story before he is personally summoned to a meeting with the Cardinal.
“I find that this city flourishes when its great institutions work together,” says the holy man.
“I’m of the opinion that for the paper to best perform its function, it needs to stand alone,” boldly retorts Marty.
Battle lines are drawn and Robby pleads with his writers to keep their emotions in check as they are confronted with horrific stories of shattered innocence.
“I don’t want the Chancery getting wind of this before we know what we have,” he says.
Spotlight is a clinical, precise and riveting dramatisation of a bloody war of words in a city in the thrall of the church.
The ensemble cast are exemplary with Ruffalo gifted the film’s stand-out scene of unfettered indignation that undoubtedly secured him an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor.
Some of the characters don’t feel fully formed, sacrificed perhaps in favour of a forensic pursuit of the facts.
Josh Singer and director McCarthy’s script crackles with tension and as the printing presses of the Globe begin to roll, we visibly relax.