Journalists crop up in movies all the time – usually portrayed as a braying pack of wolves, out for blood (and, in the olden days, wearing a hat with a "Press" card stuck in the brim). The best known big-screen journo is, of course, Clark Kent – better known as Superman. But in most films, the journalism is often a minor plot point.
There have been very few films actually about journalists, newspapers and the craft of journalism itself. The most famous is All The Presidents Men from 1976, which told the story of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) digging into the Watergate scandal which ultimately brought down President Richard Nixon. Lesser known, but equally as good, is 1994's The Paper, about a day in the life of a New York tabloid. That film stars Michael Keaton, who also stars here in Spotlight, which tells the true story of The Boston Globe's investigation into widespread child abuse by Roman Catholic priests in the city. It is based on a series of stories by the real Spotlight team, which earned The Globe the 2003 Pulitzer Prize.
Quietly yet powerfully, Spotlight follows the work of a team of Boston Globe reporters in 2001, who worked tirelessly to expose the systematic cover-up of paedophilia in the local Catholic Church. It's told in a linear, no-nonsense fashion and simply shows the journalists digging away to get to the facts of the story, talking to victims and trying to uncover the truth that the church wants to keep buried. Director McCarthy has assembled a dream cast for this powerful drama and all of them shine: Keaton is perfect as Walter "Robby" Robinson, who heads up the paper’s Spotlight investigative team; Schreiber is Marty Baron, the paper’s new editor, a Jew in a staunchly Catholic town; Ruffalo is Mike Rezendes, easily the reporter most outraged by what's been going on and the most determined to nail the child-abusing priests; and McAdams, a reporter who quietly and without fuss sets about knocking on doors and digging up documents. Tucci, too, is superb as victims' lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, worried about what the Church can do to him but keen to do the right thing.
Spotlight is a timely reminder of what we will lose if the world does not wake up and realise just how important proper journalism is
There are no gunfights, no car chases, no amazing stunts that see our protagonists hanging from airplanes or climbing up skyscrapers. It's simply a bunch of people doing all they can to get to the bottom of a cover-up: interviewing lawyers and victims, going to court to get access to documents, digging up facts, verifying sources, just doing the day-to-day drudgery to uncover the story. And it's probably fair to say that Spotlight is this generation's All The President’s Men. The scandal that the Boston Globe uncovered had implications across the world, implications that are still reverberating to this day. But the film does not hold the journalists up to be heroes, just a team of hard-working and principled people who know an important story when they come across it.
Spotlight is one of the best films about journalism of the past two decades, one that shows the real work of reporting without glamorising the profession. Sadly, the type of investigative journalism we see here is almost extinct – the news agenda today is driven more by clickbait listicles and celebrity worship than genuine public interest; it's all about web traffic, not uncovering scandals such as hundreds of Catholic priests sexually abusing children. Plus, there are almost no newspapers left that could even afford to fund an investigation such as this. Spotlight is a timely reminder of what we will lose if the world does not wake up and realise just how important proper journalism is.