‘Spotlight’: Shining a light on priest sexual misconduct

From left: Rachel McAdams, Billy Crudup, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and John Slattery in a scene from “Spotlight.”
From left: Rachel McAdams, Billy Crudup, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and John Slattery in a scene from “Spotlight.” Tribune News Service

What It’s About

The best movie of the year to date, “Spotlight” is a game-changer.

It may boost the profile of methodical newspaper journalism and draw further attention to sexual misconduct cases, as it depicts issues that reverberate to this day. But it will indeed start a conversation.

In 2012, two American experts told a Vatican summit that in the United States there had likely been 100,000 victims of clerical sexual abuse and the church had spent $2.2 billion in settling litigation. This contemporary crisis has been the focus of news accounts for at least 25 years, and because of those revelations, concerned efforts to “Protect God’s Children” have been ongoing since the early 2000s.

The clarion call to action points to sweeping reforms across the globe after the Boston Archdiocese scandal was uncovered by the Boston Globe in 2002. And now, “Spotlight,” the first comprehensive film on the subject, provides meticulous details.

This unvarnished, true account of the Globe’s startling investigation chronicles how they gathered evidence on 90 priests who had been accused of molesting youths and the subsequent cover-up by church officials.

The Spotlight team won a Pulitzer Prize for its extensive community service, and the movie depicts a tenacious staff digging through bureaucratic layers, interviewing victims and sources, verifying information and doing the legwork that journalists are supposed to do.

This powerful, masterfully crafted movie gets it right on many levels, and is greatly served by a dynamic ensemble, which just might be the finest of the year.


Michael Keaton (“Birdman”) is at the top of his game as Walter “Robbie” Robinson, the editor who headed the Spotlight investigative team, as is Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher”) as zealous investigative reporter Mike Rezendes.

Strong turns by Rachel McAdams (“The Notebook”) and Brian D’Arcy James (“Smash”) as dedicated reporters Sacha Pfeiffer and Matt Carroll; Liev Schrieber as top editor Marty Baron; Stanley Tucci (“The Lovely Bones”) as lawyer Mitchell Garabedian; and John Slattery (“Mad Men”) as deputy managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr. keep us riveted.

What Works

Writer-director Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent”) sensitively handles the material, thoroughly presenting the key players and issues — the abusive patterns of behavior, the emotional distress of victims and their loved ones, the extensive work of defense attorneys, the status-quo positions of church officials, and a lengthy web of deceit.

He captures the culture of Boston with its extensive Roman Catholic population, the way the Boston Globe worked, and the relationships between the church, the city and the press.

Tightly written by McCarthy and Josh Singer, it has elements of a thriller because of the tension that builds. McCarthy, Oscar-nominated as a screenwriter on the Pixar movie “Up,” never loses sight of the human components or the urgency of truth-seeking here. That’s why there is an emotional reaction.

This is a flawless film, an instant classic, and one of the best examples of social responsibility ever on screen.


  • CAST: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian Darcy James, Liev Schrieber, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, John Slattery, Jamey Sheridan, Len Cariou
  • DIRECTOR: Tom McCarthy
  • Rated R (some language, including sexual references)
  • 128 minutes