“Spotlight”: Shining on Hard News and Effective Journalism

“Spotlight”: Shining on Hard News and Effective Journalism
By Julie Wilson
Movie Review
September 29, 2016

The purpose of art and film is to educate or entertain. “Spotlight” focuses on educating, but does it with such quality that the viewer knows the writer, director and actors have done their jobs well; so well that “Spotlight” won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

Screen written by Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy and directed by Tom McCarthy (also known for “Up”), “Spotlight” tackles the difficult subject of hard news journalism, sexual abuse by clergy in the Roman Catholic Church and the subsequent cover up by church officials, based on actual events in the city of Boston in 2001-02. The movie has an R rating due to heavy topics and language related to sexual abuse.

On the Spotlight team from The Boston Globe are four Bostonians who grew up Catholic but have placed the church and maybe even their faith aside. Add to this a new editor, Marty Baron (played by Leiv Schreiber), who is Jewish, single and cares nothing about baseball, and it seems they are on a witch hunt in an effort to revive newspaper readership. But in reality there is truth to the story they tell and it is a hard story that must be told. These news reporters struggle against the inner workings of a city with a small town feel, a city with deep connection to the Catholic Church and conflict between family and faith and knowledge and truth.

We see glimpses of the Spotlight team in their personal lives and how this can affect their news reporting. We also see their dedication to the task at hand even when it is difficult. These four reporters, played by Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James, display a commitment to exposing the truth which is critical in today’s world of cover ups and corrupt reporting. They show the intensity of deep research work, persistent phone calls and door knocking and the continuous fact checking, even under the pressure to keep quiet. Through it all, the film works to tell the story and tell it right.

The musical score adds a key element. The music is discordant and in a minor key as to make you uncomfortable. It fits the situation in a way that only adds to the cinematic value of the film, both in the opening scene at the police station, and in the closing scene clips of newspaper delivery. In addition, the interviews with the victims are highlighted with music that reminds you how hard this news investigating can be.


“Spotlight” is not an easy watch, but it is highly recommended based on both the importance of the story told and the quality with which it has been told. The necessity of hard journalism is summed up in the encouragement of editor Marty Baron, “Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around the dark. Suddenly, a light gets turned on and there’s a fair share of blame to go around. I can’t speak to what happened before I arrived, but all of you have done some very good reporting here. Reporting that I believe is going to have an immediate and considerable impact on our readers. For me, this kind of story is why we do this.”


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