Telluride 2015 Review: ‘Spotlight’ Does Reporters Proud

Spotlight is about the elite team of Boston Globe investigative reporters who broke the story of the Catholic priests molesting children and the Catholic church coverup, but it is not an issue movie. It’s about how damn good the Spotlight team is. The issue just happens to be the prime example of their excellence. 

The Spotlight team of 2001 was Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) and Matty Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). They are assigned to pursue the Catholic priest story by incoming editor Marty Baron (Liev Schrieber).

This film really captures the juice you feel when you’re exploring a story, and when a team and your superiors support you. It rarely happens in entertainment journalism, and especially not in freelancing, but it’s a great illustration of why we got into this job in the first place. For non-journalists, it also makes you proud to have a viable media institution on our side. Let’s not let this go out of business, mmkay? 

These reporters are thorough in their questioning but sensitive to the topics they’re dealing with. It shows that you can be hard hitting without being a dick. Every source is articulate. That’s part of the crafted art of historical drama, but it’s also because the people on both sides have lived with the story so long, they’re ready to talk about it. They can get heated because many are looking for overdue justice. It can be hard to hear the details of the victims’ stories, but just imagine how much harder it was for all the actual kids who suffered through this. 

Of course many of the sources are questionable. They have agendas, or in the case of lawyer Eric MacLeish (Billy Crudup) they feel they’ve tried this case already and been burned by lack of media support. No one backs down on either side. That’s what drama is all about. 

It touches on valuable ethical issues. For example, at a certain point Carroll has information on other known pedophiles, but can’t warn anyone until the story is finished. How can you live with the risk of knowing families are trusting a child molester? But imagine the liability if you warn people and ultimately can’t back it up. When to run the story becomes a controversial question within the Globe. They ended up on the right side of history but in the moment, they had to make tough calls. 

The film conveys a sense of time really well. At this point, it feels like common knowledge that the Catholic church did this, but the actual reporting of it took years. Months fly by in the film, and significant historical events occurred before it was finally published in 2002. 

I think Spotlight could be a franchise. Surely the Spotlight team broke other big stories, hopefully while this same group of reporters were on the team. So you could do movies about each Spotlight case that Robinson, Pfeiffer, Rezendes and Carroll worked. By the time a new generation comes up in the Globe, they’ll be ready to recast. Or they could go back and do earlier period pieces about previous Spotlight teams. It’s a testament to how good Spotlight is that I want to follow these characters on all their other assignments. 

Image via Open Road Films

Fred Topel is a veteran journalist since 1999 and has written for CraveOnline since 2006. See Fred on the ground at Sundance, SXSW, Telluride or in Los Angeles and follow him on Twitter @FredTopel, Instagram @Ftopel.