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4-star 'Spotlight' gets the story right, spectacularly

RedEye movie critic, music editor

For obvious reasons, people who spend every day in a newsroom get very excited on the rare occasion that their workplace appears on screen as it really exists off screen. If you work in an ice cream shop and most presentations of that world suggest everyone’s constantly dancing and having a food fight, you’re happy when a movie comes along that doesn’t do that.

Unless dancing and food fights are common. (I never worked at an ice cream shop.) I hope they are.

Anyway, “Spotlight” deserves all of its buzz and a place on the list of titles carrying the banner of “All the President’s Men.” Director/co-writer Tom McCarthy’s film not only authentically portrays the newsroom (people typing and making phone calls and talking, not gossiping about relationships and blowing off responsibilities) but also taps into the decisions that reporters and editors make as well as almost anything I’ve seen. You may want to think, “Of course journalists will praise a movie that makes them look good,” and I’m not denying that. But a drama with this kind of craft should be called brilliant by anyone, regardless of where they work.

Set in 2001, the movie is based on the true story of the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team of reporters (Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James) investigating priests sexually abusing children and the possibility that high-ranking officials in the Catholic Church covered up these incidents. McCarthy (“The Station Agent,” “The Visitor”) refuses melodrama; he doesn’t wedge in personal-life drama for any of these journalists. Sure, it’s clear that working all the time does no favors for their relationships, but the reporters aren’t the story, and the movie gets that.

Every subtle performance (including Michael Keaton as the Spotlight editor, Liev Schreiber as the paper’s new editor and Stanley Tucci as an attorney representing some of the survivors) and several moments of great, character-based filmmaking combine for something bigger and more significant than its understated approach might suggest. Because it’s not patting the staff on the back; with a crackling sense of place and duty, “Spotlight” looks at a variety of institutions—even a local cab service claims to be “serious about service”—and how clout can be used to conceal or reveal, powerful systems at the mercy of the people who represent them. Everyone makes decisions based on the information they have, secrets are there to be found and both those in the know and those in the dark can turn a blind eye. Chilling.

4 stars (out of four) 

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