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Universal // R // February 23, 2016
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ryan Keefer | posted February 20, 2016 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

I do a microscopic bit of work on writing in my free time, and studied journalism in college, so when I see a film like Spotlight or All the President's Men to name a recent and an iconic example of journalism in cinema, it caters to an almost quixotic fascination I have with uncovering the truth for the sake of public information. But when you see the things that are revealed over the course of the reporting in both films, it's breathtaking and staggering the lengths and depths of some of the concealment of events by the Catholic Church (in the former) or by the White House (in the latter).

Josh Singer (The Fifth Estate) co-wrote the film with Tom McCarthy, who directed. McCarthy's name may not be familiar, but he's appeared in two notable projects which had journalism as its backdrop, the 2005 film Good Night, and Good Luck, and was in the fifth (and final) season of The Wire, set in the offices of the Baltimore Sun. In 2001, Marty Baron (Live Schreiber, Salt) has assumed the role of editor for the Boston Globe, and reads an article about a lawyer who says that the Cardinal of Boston was aware that a member of the Archdiosese was involved in child abuse and helped cover up the crimes. Baron suggests that the Managing Editor, Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery, Mad Men) to involve the Spotlight team, a quartet of investigative reporters, whose boss is Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton, Birdman). As they get more and more involved with the investigation, things are more entwined than anyone realized.

As you would expect from him, McCarthy ensures that the focus of Spotlight is about trying to capture the story, and those involved with trying to get the story are doing that, with a minimum of any requisite moments by the actors in it of showing off their dramatic acumen. It's a throwback to All the President's Men in that respect, where they focus on the story, have a ton of familiar faces in it, and all move the story forward with minimal fanfare. Not mentioned so far are Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher and Rachel McAdams (Aloha), each of whom are parts of the reporting machine.

Of those in the ensemble, the bulk of the signature moment in Spotlight are Keaton's, whose work as Robinson is stellar, and better than the performance that earned him so much adoration the previous year in Birdman. Robinson is a person who's been born and raised in Boston, is familiar with its institutions, and seeing the Catholic church abuse scandal unfold presumably in his backyard shows him at a level of disgust with many of the same people he had called friends for years. Schreiber as Baron is muted and controlled, and comes into the Boston area and keeps those who have spent years in the area and have a fondness for it focused on capturing the story. When he is asked about if the Globe is suing a priest or a figure, Baron notes it is focusing on the institution. And he's right, so many priests in this type of engagement without some sort of knowledge from authorities had to be near impossible. And it was, as McCarty punctuates dramatically at the end credits of the film.

Even in seeing Spotlight again, the involvement in the work that the reporters do, how much they were able to report on and yet it was the first of dozens of falling dominoes, remains amazing. McCarthy's film balances telling that story with a rallying cry for investigative journalism that appears to be his passion and should be one for scores of others. Seeing a film like this should serve as inspirational for many writers, from big to small.

The Blu-ray:
The Video:

An AVC encode to go with the 1.85:1 widescreen presentation, and it's faithful to the source material nicely. The film's darker lit moments are served well, and in the numerous moments of blacks in clothing like jackets or jeans, the black levels are sharp and present a nice contrast, and when the film does have some moments of vivid expression, they're handled adequately. Image detail is consistent but not razor sharp, and the disc is a faithful reproduction of what I saw in the theater.

The Sound:

DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround and it's quite good as well. Dialogue is clean throughout the film and pretty consistent, save for a tiny bit of fluctuation during the scene at the Red Sox game). Howard Shore's score is modest yet has a bit of power to it, and channel panning is present and effective, with environmental directional effects sounding good too. Recent source material sounds good and free of complaints in this dialogue-driven affair.


There is a letdown here; no commentary, no extended extras, just three featurettes to go with digital copies; "Uncovering the Truth" (6:33) is a roundtable interview with the journalists portrayed in the film, how they came to the story, its impact on themselves and one another and some of the effort made to getting the story. "A Look Inside" (2:30) is your run of the mill EPK on the film, and "The State of Journalism" (3:14) looks at that with the cast and crew.

Final Thoughts:

Featuring an excellent ensemble telling a superb story and doing almost nothing but is both a breath of fresh air, and their performances are all spot on. Technically the disc is good, but the bonus material could have really used more recounting from the real-life participants of the unfolding story. Nevertheless, Spotlight is worth seeing for all audiences.

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Highly Recommended

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