People working at a table
Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Brian d’Arcy James  (from left) play journalists investigating pedophile priests in Spotlight (Open Road Films)
For career journalists like myself, watching Spotlight is a bittersweet  experience. It’s sweet because it shows journalism at its best. The film tells the true  story of The Boston Globe’s 2001-02 efforts to uncover the Catholic Church’s  decades-long cover-up of pedophile priests.  But it’s bitter because one suspects we’ll see fewer and fewer such efforts  in this era of journalistic downsizing.  As the film reveals, uncovering a scandal like the Catholic Church’s  systematic cover-up of priestly misbehavior takes courage and patience. First of  all, though, it takes time. The Globe is able to challenge the church because it has a  four-person team called Spotlight that’s devoted exclusively to long-term  investigative projects.  How many newspapers can afford this kind of luxury in 2015? Competition  from the Internet has led to decreased profits, staff cutbacks and changes of  ownership—which, of course, have led to more cutbacks as the new owners try to  squeeze yet more blood from a shrinking stone. In Central Ohio, we’re all too  familiar with this trend thanks to the recent sale of The Columbus Dispatch. But let’s set aside journalism’s iffy future long enough to appreciate the  film for what it is: a savvy and intelligently made look at a crusade to uncover  years’ worth of child abuse by an institution that was believed to be above  suspicion. Directed and co-written by Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent), Spotlight  leads us into the Globe offices just in time to witness the retirement of a venerable  editor. His replacement is Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), an outsider in more ways  than one. Not only is he new to Boston, but he’s a Jew in a city dominated by  Catholics.  Even so, Baron is soon talking to Spotlight team leader Walter “Robby”  Robinson (Michael Keaton) about digging into a previously underreported story:  allegations that a local priest has abused scores of local kids. Baron thinks it just  might be important to find out how much the local cardinal knew about the  misbehaving clergyman and whether more could have been done to protect his  victims.   The implication is that it takes an outsider like Baron to question the lazy  assumptions that have allowed an injustice to fester.  Though initially dubious, Robinson takes the assignment to Spotlight  reporters Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and  Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). From then on, the film is an account of the  journalists’ frustrating search for a way around the legal and institutional  roadblocks the church has built to cover up the truth—a truth that proves to be far  more shocking than any of them could have imagined.  Hollywood has looked at investigative journalism before—most notably in  1976’s Watergate saga All the President’s Men. Spotlight goes that mighty film  one better by refusing to insert pious sermons about the survival of democracy into  its journalists’ mouths.  These are simply professionals who go about their work with quiet  determination and the certainty that what they’re doing is massively important.  They know they could take flak from their families and the general public for  questioning the church, but they also know that the abuse of innocent children will  continue unabated if they fail.  All of the cast members resist the temptation to chew the scenery  unnecessarily—even Ruffalo, whose character is the most gung-ho reporter.  Perhaps the most impressive display of restraint is turned in by Schreiber  (Showtime’s Ray Donovan), who doesn’t need to say a word to telegraph the  discomfort Baron feels as the newcomer who has set his sights on an entrenched  Boston institution.   Given the film’s refusal to turn reality into stagey melodrama, don’t be  surprised if Oscar largely overlooks the film’s cast. But let’s hope Spotlight earns  award recognition nonetheless—if only to remind the public of the indispensable  role our endangered local newspapers play in American society.    Rating: 4½ stars (out of 5)   Spotlight, rated R, opens Friday (Nov. 20) in theaters nationwide.