Thomas McCarthy's docudrama "Spotlight" debuted at the Venice film festival on Thursday. The film, which delves into the reporting that revealed widespread sex abuse by Catholic priests in Boston, will travel to two more festivals — Telluride and Toronto — before opening on Nov. 6. The initial reviews for this fact-based film include several raves. And even those that were less enthusiastic made mention of the quality of the performances.
The story begins in 2001 when new Boston Globe editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) assigns a group of investigative journalists to pursue the extent of a cover-up by the Catholic church of pedophile priests. Michael Keaton plays veteran reporter Walter Robinson who leads a team of tyros including Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Marty Campbell (Brian d'Arcy James). Their work resulted in Cardinal Law resigning in 2002 and the paper winning the Pulitzer in 2003.
Keaton, who contended for Best Actor last year for his turn in the Best Picture winner "Birdman," could be seen as holding an IOU from the Oscars. Indeed, he currently sits in fourth place on our Best Supporting Actor chart.
Back in 1994, Keaton was a crusading reporter in Ron Howard's 'The Paper." In that film, the newspaper owner was played by Jason Robards, who had won the first of his consecutive Supporting Actor Oscars in 1976 for his portrayal of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee in "All the President's Men." Bradlee's namesake son was the managing editor of the Boston Globe at the time of "Spotlight" and is played in the picture by Emmy nominee John Slattery ("Mad Men").
Critics singled out Keaton in their reviews, both good and bad, of "Spotlight" (see below). After reading these excerpts, be sure to make your Oscar predictions for Best Supporting Actor. Don't worry, you can keep changing them right up until nominations are announced on Jan. 14.
Justin Chang (Variety) raved: "Very much in the 'All the President’s Men'/'Zodiac' mold of slow-building, quietly gripping journalistic procedurals, this measured and meticulous ensemble drama sifts through a daunting pile of evidence to expose not just the Church’s horrific cycles of abuse and concealment, but also its uniquely privileged position in a society that failed its victims at myriad personal, spiritual and institutional levels."
Alonso Duralde (The Wrap) enthused: While the script (written by McCarthy and Josh Singer, 'The Fifth Estate') certainly doesn’t shy away from the horrors that priests visited upon their young victims — and the institutional conspiracies that kept these predators from ever facing criminal justice — the film focuses on the dogged sleuthing by reporters and editors at the Boston Globe that broke the story. The result is a career highlight for the director of such Sundance favorites as 'Win Win,' 'The Station Agent' and 'The Visitor.'
Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian) observed: "'Spotlight' has a few inevitable journo cliches: male reporters are dishevelled mavericks, who don’t need to keep the same hours as everyone else, doing a fair bit of shouting and desk-thumping, there is much cheeky machismo on the subjects of poker and sports, and they somehow never need to do the boring grind of sitting down and writing stuff on computers. But this is a movie that is honourably concerned to avoid sensationalism and to avoid the bad taste involved in implying that journalists, and not the child abuse survivors, are the really important people here. So there is something cautious, even occasionally plodding, in its dramatic pace."
Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter) cautioned: "In the end, this material cant help but be interesting, even compelling up to a point, but its prosaic presentation suggests that the story's full potential, encompassing deep, disturbing and enduring pain on all sides of the issue, has only begun to be touched."
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Photo: The cast of "Spotlight" Credit: Open Road