‘Spotlight’ shines a light on serious issues

In one scene of “Spotlight,” Mike Rezendes, a reporter for the Boston Globe, sits across a diner table from Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer representing 80 people claiming to have been sexually assaulted as children by Catholic priests in Boston parishes.

“If it takes a village to raise a child,” Garabedian tells Rezendes, “It takes a village to abuse one.”

“Spotlight” tells the story of the Globe’s investigative reporting team, from which the movie takes its name, and their uncovering of both the sexual abuse of children by Boston’s priests and the systemic cover-up by the Church and a number of other conspirators.

The movie taking place in 2001, begins with the retirement of one editor and the hiring of another: Marty Baron, who, being both Jewish and indifferent about the game of baseball, begins his tenure at odds with most of the Boston population. Baron quickly notices an op-ed column that mentions a priest who has been accused of abuse by multiple claimants. Noting that little reporting has been done on the story, Baron puts the Spotlight team on it.

The team, led by editor Robby Robinson played by Michael Keaton in his first role since his Oscar-nominated turn in “Birdman,” consists of Rachel McAdams (“Mean Girls”), Mark Ruffalo (“The Avengers”) and Brian d’Arcy James. There is hardly a scene in the movie in which the foursome is not working.

The movie plays out as a finely tuned procedural and writer-director Tom McCarthy expertly paces the story. The scenes in which the Spotlight journalists interview abuse survivors are arresting. The movie emphasizes the term “survivor” over “victim” — many of those abused as children turn to hard drugs or more immediate forms of self-destruction, survivor and advocate Phil Saviano played by Neal Huff (“Show Me A Hero”) tells the journalists.

The performances are stellar across the board, but Keaton and Ruffalo are particularly superb. As the scope of the abuse becomes clear, the weight of it shows on Keaton’s face, and even as he brings the story to light, he questions if he did enough, and why it took him so long to do so.

Ruffalo, with his poor posture, grumbled speech, and hungry eyes seems more beast than man, and it reflects in his character’s work ethic. Like Keaton, when Ruffalo’s character begins to understand the scope of the abuse and hear the firsthand stories from survivors, you can see the visceral hurt he is experiencing: he gets the look in his eye similar to that of a wounded dog.

“Spotlight” is a story about the power of good journalism, the toxic effects of institutionalized violence, and the dangers of the bystander effect. The movie’s heroes are never involved in a shootout or a foot or car chase, nor do they exhibit superhuman strength. They simply do their jobs, and it makes for a fantastic film.