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Laramie Movie Scope:

The best film of the year so far

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 15, 2015 -- There have been some good films about journalism in the past couple of years, like “Nightcrawler” and “Kill the Messenger” from last year, but this one tops them all. This one reminds me of a classic film about journalism, “All the President's Men,” but it is even more compelling than that.

This is a story about how a team of investigative journalists at the Boston Globe Newspaper uncovered one of the largest scandals in history: A huge child sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, and a big cover-up that went all the way up to the Vatican. While it was likely this had been going on for at least hundreds of years, it was this small team of reporters who brought this issue out of the shadows. Appropriately, the name of this team was Spotlight.

One thing I noticed early on when watching this film was how strongly I was being drawn into the story. This movie is like a powerful magnet in that regard. It really hooks you. The action ramps up quickly when a new editor is brought on board at the Globe, Marty Baron (played by Liev Shreiber of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”). At an editorial meeting, Baron asks if there was going to be a follow up on a report by a Globe columnist about sexual abuse by a priest.

The reaction by the other editors around the table is that this subject had been reported several times before. Baron persists, believing there is a story here, and he asks the head of the Spotlight team, Walter “Robby” Robinson (played by Michael Keaton of “Birdman”) to put Spotlight on the sexual abuse story. Other editors at the paper, including Ben Bradlee Jr. (played by John Slattery of “Ant-Man”) think the investigation is a waste of time, until the team finds more priests are involved.

And yes, Ben Bradlee's father was executive editor of The Washington Post when that newspaper single-handedly broke the Watergate scandal story, so there's your connection to the movie “All the President's men” in which Bradlee is played by Jason Robards. Father and son journalists, both intimately connected to two of the biggest news stories of the last 100 years. What are the odds?

This movie follows the members of the Spotlight team, Robinson, Michael Rezendes (played by Mark Ruffalo of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”) Sacha Pfeiffer (played by Rachel McAdams of “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James of “Game Change”) as they knock on doors, pour over old newspaper clippings, court records, and reference books, chasing down the story (this is old-school reporting). Along the way, doors are slammed in their faces and angry family members call them names, but they continue onward.

This story becomes very personal to them. All the Spotlight team reporters were raised in the Catholic faith. Matt Carroll discovers that priests guilty of sexual abuse have a house in his own neighborhood. Walter “Robby” Robinson discovers that some of his friends are involved in the cover-up of the sexual abuse scandal. He has to ask his friends some very tough questions during the investigation. At one point, Robinson realizes that the Globe had been given compelling evidence of the scandal years before, but had never done a proper investigation into it then.

Both Sacha Pfeiffer and Michael Rezendes must face their own crises of faith during the course of the investigation. Rezendes expresses the most outrage of any reporter on the team when he blows up at Robinson for delaying publication. Then the attacks of September 11, 2001 happen and the entire team is pulled off the story to cover the terrorist attacks. This upsets the reporters as well as some of their sources, but it is a bigger story. That's the news business.

One of the key characters in the film is a lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci of “The Hunger Games”) who represents a number of sexual abuse victims. Garabedian (who has been involved in cases resulting in sexual abuse settlements totaling over $100 million) is considered an oddball who is hard to work with, but after a lot of effort on the part of Rezendes, he becomes a valuable source of information. The film shows how the Catholic Church applied pressure to kill the story, but it is pretty obvious that once the Globe discovers the scope of the scandal, there was no way the story was not going to be published.

As an example of investigative journalism, this film is as good as it gets. It has it all: Knocking on doors, people skills, using library records, computerized database analysis (Matt Carroll's specialty -- he is now a scientist in MIT's media lab) going over old news clips from the newspaper's collection of files (called the newspaper's morgue) using reference materials and going to court to unseal documents.

While the movie does have some brief references to the Boston Phoenix newspaper, it should be noted that Kristen Lombardi of the Phoenix wrote about one of the big sexual abuse cover-ups a year before the Globe column about the same cover-up sparked the Spotlight investigation.

This is the best movie I've seen so far this year. Unfortunately, it has not been released to very many theaters nationally so far (only 61 theaters last time I checked). The screenplay, by Director Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer is compelling and the acting is top-notch by everyone, especially Mark Ruffalo, Stanley Tucci, Rachel McAdams and Michael Keaton. I've been a journalist most of my life. This is one of those films that makes me proud of my profession. It rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2015 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)