When it comes to the Eastern seaboard, it has long been New York City that has laid claim to the place where “important things” happen. But, looking back on the filmic history of Boston, it’s pretty evident that this is a town of intensity, where history is made. From The Departed to The Town, it always seems to be the case that Boston is the setting a director or writer uses when he or she wants to establish the tone for seriousness. Director Tom McCarthy’s track record with film has been “respectable,” for the most part, but rarely as standout as the talent exhibited in Spotlight, co-written with Josh Singer (better known for his TV writing aptitude–we can just forget he also wrote The Fifth Estate). Somewhat surprisingly, it was the duo’s intention not to highlight the Catholic Church’s frailties, but rather, reiterate the power of the newsroom, a concept that seems to have diminished in people’s eyes over the decade since the story was published.
Indeed, it’s been quite awhile since a truly great movie about journalism has been released (for some reason, All The President’s Men is the only thing coming to mind). When Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) is given the job of editor-in-chief at The Boston Globe after leaving his post at The Miami Herald, his position as an outsider (he’s never been to Boston–unlike most of the Boston-born staff–and has no interest in baseball) makes him even more unpopular when his first motion of business is to assign the Spotlight team, a small group of investigative journalists who can take up a year to print a story, the task of digging deeper into the allegations of sexual abuse against a local priest named Father Geoghan. Thus far, only one reporter at the Globe, Eileen McNamara (Eileen Keiller), has had the gumption to use the glaring evidence of religious abuse of power in her articles. It is she who unearths an eccentric Armenian lawyer named Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci, in a role that allows him hair). Though the obvious reason some might believe he has taken on the cases of countless victims reporting sexual abuse from priests is because of his Armenian heritage–ergo non-Catholic background–it is more because, according to Garabedian himself when explaining why he doesn’t have a wife, “What I do is too important.” Spotlight reporter Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), too, suffers from being a bit overly devoted to his job, as indicated by the reference to his disapproving wife and the fact that he’s currently living in an unkempt bachelor pad we’re to presume is a temporary setup during his separation. One of his editors, Ben Bradlee (John Slattery), even feels compelled to bring Rezendes a box of pizza as they discuss the findings of his research thus far. When Rezendes mentions that one of the people they’ve interviewed, Phil Saviano (Neal Huff), sent the Globe a box of pertinent information years ago, Bradlee defensively says it wasn’t the right time, and that Spotlight needed to tell the story. It would seem, in fact, that many lead editors at the Globe, including Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), are trying to eschew the larger question behind the article: Why did it take so long to reach the point of feeling compelled to tell the story?
No one wants to acknowledge the reasons why as Baron assures them that the work they’re doing now is what matters. But their research and intensive investigations aren’t without their proverbial concrete walls, as when 9/11 happens and every reporter at the Globe is forced to devote their time to other reporting. It isn’t until early 2002, once the events of September have somewhat died down, that the team is allowed the opportunity to return fully to all the work they previously put in. The result is, of course, a world-changing piece of journalism that has perhaps not transpired since. And, yes, Rachel McAdams is putting the rest of the Mean Girls cast to shame.