Review: Spotlight

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

This was originally reviewed as part of our TIFF 2015 coverage.

PLOT: The true story of The Boston Globe's “Spotlight” team coverage of the Massachusetts Catholic Church sex abuse scandal.

REVIEW: Going into this year's edition of The Toronto International Film Festival, I was very curious about Thomas McCarthy's SPOTLIGHT. Coming from a city where the Catholic Church once wielded enormous influence (Montreal) I was very curious to see how SPOTLIGHT would tackle this incredibly controversial subject, with the Catholic Church abuses still playing out in headlines all over-the-world, even though few have ever been brave enough to challenge the power behind the church the way the team at The Boston Globe did. Optimistically, I hoped McCarthy's film would be a worthy document of this landmark moment in journalism, but I never thought for an instant SPOTLIGHT would rocket right to the top of my “best-of-TIFF” list, with it being the only film of the many I've seen this year that really challenges SICARIO as far as the fest's best movies go.


Sure enough, SPOTLIGHT is just that good, and having been present for the rapturous reaction it got from the press/critics' audience at TIFF, I'm confident in predicting that SPOTLIGHT is going to be a major contender in the Oscar race this year, maybe even for best picture, which is a prize I dare say it would be well worthy-of.

This is certainly the best thing McCarthy's ever-done, with the research that he must have done during his stint as an actor on The Wire – season five (where he played an ambitious journalist) clearly paying big dividends here. SPOTLIGHT ranks alongside ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN as one of the great movies about journalism and an inspiring look at the very best aspects of the practice, with good old-fashioned research and persistence (along with a hell of a lot of compassion) blowing the lid off a scandal that's so monstrous one can barely conceive of it.

More than anything, this sharply written story (co-written by McCarthy and Josh Singer) is an actors showcase, with this sporting one of the best ensemble casts imaginable. Everyone is so on-point here that watching actors like Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci and Bryan D'Arcy James (in a part that will put him on-the-map) do their stuff is like watching a team of olympians at work. They're the best of the best in that they're so natural and authentic that what they're doing barely seems like acting at all as they just live and breathe the characters. From the way Ruffalo tucks his steno pad into the back of his slacks, to the way Keaton expertly pumps resistant sources for information while McAdams sympathetically gets abuse victims to open up, everyone seems to be operating to the full extent of their considerable talents. They only downside about all of these great performances is that with at least half-a-dozen award-caliber performances someone's bound to be overlooked.

Of everyone, it's arguably the central 'Spotlight' foursome that have the most to chew-on, even though there's no clear protagonist. They all bring something special to their parts, with Ruffalo's outrage, McAdams' intellect, Keaton's resourcefulness and James' devotion all playing a part. The newsroom vibe is incredibly authentic (I actually have a journalism degree and have worked on-and-off in newsrooms for a decade), with SPOTLIGHT showing more than even ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN how much of a team effort great journalism really is, with there being no room for glory hounds.

The ultimate tragedy of SPOTLIGHT is two-fold in that the Catholic Church cover-ups continue, as does the abuse, and also that newsrooms like the one depicted here are in short supply nowadays with the death of print journalism. It's crazy how much of a period piece this feels like despite it only taking place in 2001/2002, but sure enough that's what it is. In the end, SPOTLIGHT is the rare piece of entertainment that feels absolutely essential, in that it tells a story that needs to be told and also celebrates they kind of ordinary heroism embodied by the “spotlight” team. This is film-making at its best and an absolute must-see.




Viewer Ratings (0 reviews)

Add your rating


About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.