Spotlight review — Celebrating the power of the press

Directed by Tom McCarthy | Written by McCarthy and Josh Singer | 128 min

About 15 years ago a group of investigative reporters from the Boston Globe started to dig into reports of Catholic priests abusing children, and that the executive in the diocese were complicit in covering it up, relocating the priests to other parishes where they could continue their crimes with impunity. When the results of the investigation were published in a series of stories, it earned the muckrakers a Pulitzer in 2003. The group was called Spotlight.


McCarthy has made a film that’s a love-letter to the process of the press, one that can’t help but feel somewhat bittersweet, given the devastation in the industry in the years since. (I wonder if the reporters depicted here still all have jobs. )

The picture celebrates their work by starting slowly, deliberately; this is very meat-and-potatoes filmmaking, scenes of people walking and talking in rooms. But a deep investment in the material is earned. At the halfway point I was completely in its grip, and in the final few scenes I was disappointed it was ending. I can’t remember the last time I saw a 2+ hour feature where I wanted to spend more time with the characters, to savour their achievement.

This is a movie where the deeply unglamorous grunt work of journalists is revealed to be just that—reading files, going to courthouses, knocking on doors, making phone calls.  And yet McCarthy’s knack for narrative construction makes it enormously compelling stuff. It’s also a true ensemble film, with a collection of career high supporting roles without a lead—and without a flashy turn amongst them—from Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James, Stanley Tucci, and Billy Crudup.


At its core, it’s no less than a story of institutional evil, the revealing of the rotten heart of an organization operated by a generation of old, twisted, white men. It’s hard to imagine the church will ever lose the stink of this, this poisonous legacy of corruption, but then they bounced back from the Inquisition, so anything is possible.

It also reveals the dark heart of a city, in this case, Boston, but the final list of places where this has happened features more than one town near where I live.

A devastating, essential film, Spotlight is in the company of All The President’s Men as one of the great movies about journalism.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.