It's one thing for a reporter to break a story few people know about. It's another thing entirely for a reporter—or a team of reporters—to tear the lid off a story everyone knows something about but whose true dimensions are too horrifying to imagine. Actor-turned-filmmaker Tom McCarthy's Spotlight, which re-creates the Boston Globe's 2002 Pulitzer Prize—winning exposure of the Catholic Church's sex-abuse scandal, looks at a case of the latter with riveting results.
First of all, it's not as if the Globe hadn't reported on individual incidents, but they went nowhere as victims recanted claims, settled out of court, or refused to speak to the press. All that changes when the Globe hires a new chief editor (Liev Schreiber as the odd man out—neither native-born nor Catholic) who senses a pattern and suggests that the paper's investigative unit, Spotlight (editor Michael Keaton and reporters Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d'Arcy James), dig deeper.
They're stalled by uncooperative attorneys (Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup) and troubled survivors who don't make the most reliable witnesses, but their relentlessness uncovers the depth of the rot. The villains are no mystery, but as procedurals go, this is a sterling effort. An Oscar nomination lies in Keaton's future, particularly in the wake of Birdman. But the true standout is Ruffalo, building on his work in Zodiac and making a forceful case for pavement-pounding reporting in a world that favors infotainment over journalism that can lead to justice and reform.