There’s a scene in Spotlight — which just had its Toronto Film Festival premiere and chronicles the behind-the-scenes drama surrounding the Boston Globe’s 2002 coverage of the child molestation in the Catholic Church – in which Mark Ruffalo’s Michael Rezendes has a newsroom freak out. He’s yelling and ranting and raving about The Right Thing To Do. This is the film’s Oscar moment. This kind of scene usually bothers me. The thing is, Spotlight is just so genuinely tremendous in almost every way, I remember thinking to myself while watching Ruffalo yell, You know what, this movie can have one of these types of scenes if it really has to. It’s earned it. This is the best movie I’ve seen so far in 2015.
It’s kind of interesting to watch Spotlight — a movie which portrays how journalism is supposed to work when everything goes right after diligent reporting – so soon after Truth, a movie about what happens when journalism goes wrong. In the scene that I mentioned in the opening paragraph, Ruffalo’s Rezendez wants to publish his findings immediately. His editor, Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton) wants to wait. Robinson wants the full story. It wasn’t so much Rezendez was wrong about anything; the story just wasn’t ready. It would have made “noise,” but no changes. When journalism works, changes happen. What Robinson wanted was a systematic change in the way the Catholic Church operates. Atrocities had been swept under the rug far too long. The Catholic Church had always gotten the benefit of the doubt, so the story had to be rock solid.
It’s always funny when characters discuss a decision that needs to be made in a movie based on true events. Obviously, the decision that was chosen made some sort of history because we are now watching a movie with famous people – Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, Gene Amoroso, Billy Crudup and Liev Schreiber round out this great cast – acting out the events of that decision. The decision in question is if the Boston Globe should take on the Catholic Church, which is especially powerful in Boston. The demons facing all the reporters on this case is that everyone kind of, sort of knew what was going on, but (A) didn’t think they could win and (B) didn’t know just how widespread the problems were. (It even goes further: plaintiff attorneys were making a fortune by settling with the Catholic Church under the table so there would be no court records of any molestation. Then the offending priest(s) were shipped off to another city and the process started over.)
With a story this heavy, it’s remarkable, too, just how entertaining Spotlight can be. As the Spotlight team (the investigative branch of the Globe) puts together its story, it’s done with both attention to detail and somehow in a way that, at times, it has the drama we’d usually see out of a heist movie. Basically, every trick in the book is used by these reporters to get the access they need to take down one of the most powerful organizations in the world. Spotlight is riveting, thrilling, heartbreaking, powerful and important. (I think I used at least two too many adjectives in that last sentence. But I like this movie that much.)
Also: What a comeback for director Thomas McCarthy. Last year, here at Toronto, I saw his collaboration with Adam Sandler, The Cobbler, a movie that was released theatrically earlier this year. I despised that movie with the intensity of a thousand suns. Somehow, Thomas McCarthy has directed, so far, my least favorite movie of 2015 and, so far, my favorite movie of 2015. (As an admirer of most of McCarthy’s work, I am very happy that not only he bounced back in a big way, but made a movie that is legitimately fantastic.)
And there’s always something to be said for a movie in which we know the ending: we are all aware of went on behind closed doors now at many Catholic churches around the world and that’s because of the work the Boston Globe did in 2001 and 2002. These are people who rose to the occasion and did something good for a lot of people. And it’s great that with Spotlight, the movie rose to the occasion as well.
Again, this is a movie that everyone should see. It’s remarkable.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.