News team Assemble! Bringing the Pulitzer Prize-winning unit of Boston Globe reporters to the big screen are perhaps one of the most well written and intricately acted ensemble casts of the year. Leading the Globe’s “Spotlight” team is Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton), enlisting the aid of Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brain d’ Arcy James) under editors Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) and Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery). Despite that roll call, Ruffalo and Keaton are the obvious centers of attention. Studying their real-life counterparts, the actors employ notable quirks such as Robby’s low-key Boston accent or Mike’s speedy and sharp speech. Ruffalo, in particular, does an adequate job of both guiding the plot to several discoveries and expressing their antagonizing, disheartening, and righteous epiphanies.
Personal glimpses. Where the cast shines brightest, however, are the moments in between when there is no center attention. Writer (and Director) Tom McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer have each one of these reporters contributing to the investigation in some meaningful way—be it interviewing traumatized victims or unearthing sensitive documents there’s an evident feeling of cooperation and balance. Though the same can’t be said in terms of character, McAdams and d’ Arcy James allotted significantly simpler means of development, the visits to the duo’s respected arcs are kept brief—illustrating these moments as personal glimpses rather than forced sympathy. Schreiber embodied this aspect in his underused performance, where a couple of the film’s handful of memorable scenes sees the Jewish editor opposite to the Cardinal, Schreiber donning a weary expression with a firm tone of voice to craft a motivated but emotionally suppressed performance that only began to bud.
Spotlighted Stumbles. Narratively, McCarthy and Singer exhibit the same balancing act they provided their characters with perhaps a tad more caution for better, but mainly, worse. Between the investigative ‘thrill’ and the detailed tragedies of the victims, the plot and hard-to-watch emotional elements fluctuate equally. While the framework is sound, there are several absentees that were the direct result of that symmetry’s disruption. For instance, during a particular stretch that follows Mike divulging documents recently made public, the pace is curbed due to a distinct lack of dedicated character moments during what felt to have lasted nearly 20 minutes. Furthermore, there’s a human disconnect from the priests. Although the Cardinal has a couple of scenes, we can’t match these monstrous crimes to a particular face or faces—instead hidden behind court orders and, in general, mention. The product: at 128 minutes the conclusion still felt blunt. All the emotion poured into the investigation felt forgotten. Yet seeing the wall of the towns and cities the corruption spread is bitter in its lack of narrative satisfaction but nonetheless sweet in the justice brought to all the sinners.