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  • Writer's pictureThomas Duncan

Spotlight (2015)

What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: Investigative journalism is important to uncovering systemic abuse in powerful institutions.

Plot Summary: When the Boston Globe hires a new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), he encourages the "Spotlight" team of crack investigators/reporters to pursue a story which would implicate the Catholic church in systemic sexual abuse—and subsequent cover-up— primarily of children. The team of Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeifer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) at first find only one or two priests who abused children, but soon discover the magnitude of the abuse with the help of lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci). As the team pursues support for the story, they face wide-ranging roadblocks set up by the church even within the Courts, the greater Boston community, and the local government.


  • Tom McCarthy, Writer/Director

  • Josh Singer, Writer

  • Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes

  • Michael Keaton as Walter "Robby" Robinson

  • Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer

  • Brian d'Arcy James as Matt Carroll

  • Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron

  • John Slattery as Ben Bradlee Jr.

  • Stanley Tucci as Mitchell Garabedian

  • Gene Amoroso as Stephen Kurkjian

  • Jamey Sheridan as Jim Sullivan

  • Billy Crudup as Eric MacLeish

  • Maureen Keiller as Eileen McNamara

  • Richard Jenkins as Richard Sipe [uncredited]

  • Paul Guilfoyle as Peter Conley

  • Len Cariou as Cardinal Bernard Law

  • Neal Huff as Phil Saviano


  • Spotlight was wide released on November 6, 2015.

  • The film grossed $4.4 million in the first weekend during its wide release, finishing 8th at the box office.

  • Spotlight grossed $45.1 million in the United States and Canada and $53.2 million in other countries for a worldwide total of $98.3 million, against a production budget of $20 million. The Hollywood Reporter calculated the film made a net profit of up to $10 million.

  • Spotlight has been critically acclaimed, and has been included in many critics' Top Ten Films of 2015 lists. The film has received over 100 industry and critics awards and nominations. The American Film Institute selected Spotlight as one of the Top Ten Films of the year.

  • At the Academy Awards, the film received six nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Ruffalo), Supporting Actress (McAdams), Original Screenplay, and Film Editing, winning Best Picture and Original Screenplay.

  • At the time of its win, the film had made $39.2 million at the North American box office, which made it the second lowest domestically grossing film (adjusted for ticket-price inflation) to win Best Picture within the past four decades (after The Hurt Locker with $17 million).

  • Spotlight currently holds a 93% among critics on RT, a 93 score on Metacritic, and a 4 out of 5 on Letterboxd.

Did You Know:

  • The screenplay for this film was featured in the 2013 Blacklist, a list of the "most liked" unmade scripts of the year.

  • Director Tom McCarthy cited multiple films as influence on this project: Frost/Nixon (2008), Broadcast News (1987), Network (1976), All the President's Men (1976), The Killing Fields (1984), The Insider (1999), Citizen Kane (1941), Ace in the Hole (1951), JFK (1991), The Verdict (1982), and Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005), in which McCarthy had a small role.

  • A study of Swiss priests published on May 12, 2003, revealed that 50% of that clergy had mistresses, similar to the report by the Spotlight team The Boston Globe published in 2002. Father Victor Kotze, a South African sociologist, surveyed Catholic priests in his country in 1991, and found that 45% had been sexually active. Over all these studies, 53% of sexually active priests surveyed were having sex with adult women, 21% with adult men, 14% with minor boys, and 12% with minor girls. These statistics caused a monumental debate in which no one challenged the reality of his numbers. Pepe Rodriguez concluded that 95% of practicing priests masturbate, 7% are sexually involved with minors, 26% have "attachments to minors," 60% have heterosexual relations, and 20% have homosexual relations and on average across the globe. Only 50% of Catholic clergy are legitimately "celibate".

  • A victim asks a reporter, "Have you read Jason Berry's book?" Berry is a reporter who began covering sex abuse cover-ups in Louisiana Catholic churches for the National Catholic Reporter and the Times of Acadiana. By the time the Boston Globe broke the story of the abuse scandal in Boston, the NCR had been reporting on abuse within the church for 17 years (while other, much bigger news outlets had refused to look at it).

  • During an interview on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air", director Tom McCarthy said that they built a large set to depict many of the Boston Globe offices, where parts of the story take place. When the reporters depicted in the movie first visited the set, they gravitated to "their" desks, and many of them started to arrange the items on those desks the way they had been at the time.

  • In the baseball game scene, the real Michael Rezendes, Sacha Pfeiffer, and Walter Robinson can be seen in the background.

  • When the real Walter Robinson visited the set, he was very impressed after seeing Michael Keaton sitting at an exact copy of his desk, a two-fingered typist, just like him, his lips pursed, peering through reading glasses at a 2001 Globe computer screen.

  • The real Walter Robinson said of Michael Keaton, "It is like watching yourself in a mirror, yet having no control of the mirror image."

  • When Michael Keaton accepted the role, he had tracked the real Walter Robinson before meeting him, and found out he actually lived near Robinson's house. He had also gotten hold of video and audio of Robinson. When Keaton first met him, he did an impression of him that was so impressive, that Robinson was scared, and said to him, "How did you know everything about me? We just met."

  • The one thing Michael Keaton was afraid of when he accepted the role was the Boston accent. After watching video footage of the real Walter Robinson, he was surprised that Robinson only has a slight Boston accent.

  • As of the film's release, Michael Rezendes was the only journalist involved in the investigation still working on the Spotlight team.

  • Jimmy LeBlanc, who plays Patrick McSorley, was himself an actual survivor of the clerical abuse scandal, so when director Tom McCarthy first brought him in for rehearsals with Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Stanley Tucci, he was concerned that 'revisiting' Jimmy's abusive past might be too emotionally traumatic for him. However, as McCarthy later accompanied Jimmy out after the session, he asked him if he was freaked out by his first 'acting' experience with the other actors. "Of course I'm freaked out," Jimmy said, "that was the Hulk, and Batman, and that guy from The Devil Wears Prada."

Best Performance: Mark Ruffalo (Mike)/Tom McCarthy (writer/director)

Best Secondary Performance: Mark Ruffalo (Mike)/Rachel McAdams (Sacha)

Most Charismatic Award: Michael Keaton (Robby)

Best Scene:

  • New Editor

  • Can Spotlight Look Into Geoghan?

  • Mitchell Garabedian

  • SNAP and Victim Interviews

  • Directories

  • Richard Sipe and the Scale of the Scandal

  • Release of the Documents

  • Going to Print

  • Epilogue

Favorite Scene: Directories/New Editor

Most Indelible Moment: Epilogue/"They knew, and they let it happen!..."

In Memorium:

  • Ron Masak, 86, American actor (Murder, She Wrote, Tora! Tora! Tora!, Evel Knievel). Known as the "King of Commercials" for his many voiceovers as well his charity work with Wounded Warriors, Child Help, Susan G. Komen Foundation, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Special Olympics, and the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon.

  • Michael Kopsa, 66, Canadian actor (X-Men: Evolution, Highlander, The X-Files, Smallville, and Fantastic Four). Long-time voice actor including for Ninjago, Alien Racers and Princess Castle as well as many video games.

  • Chet Walker, 68, American choreographer, actor, and director, (On the Town, Pippin, Directed Fosse). Was in 4 Bob Fosse Broadway musicals, was Tony nominated for the 2013 revival of Pippin, and directed and choreographed Fosse in 1999 which won the Best Musical Tony Award.

  • Jules Bass, 87, American animator and television producer (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, The Last Unicorn). Also did "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" with Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney, was the business partner of Arthur Rankin at Rankin/Bass productions, and won a Peabody for the animated version of "The Hobbit" in 1980.

  • Joanna Simon, 85, American opera singer and sister of Carly Simon.

  • Lucy Simon, 82, American composer (The Secret Garden) and folk singer (The Simon Sisters), Grammy winner (1981, 1983).

  • Leslie Jordan, 67, American actor (Will & Grace, Hearts Afire, Call Me Kat), Emmy winner (2006). An LGBTQ icon who appeared as a guest judge on Ru-Paul's drag race, was Instagram famous during the pandemic for his comedic videos, and was a guest judge on the "Masked Singer" as well as released his own Gospel Music album, "Company's Comin'".

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Marty Baron: Sometimes it's easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around in the dark. Suddenly, a light gets turned on and there's a fair share of blame to go around. I can't speak to what happened before I arrived, but all of you have done some very good reporting here. Reporting that I believe is going to have an immediate and considerable impact on our readers. For me, this kind of story is why we do this.

Walter 'Robby' Robinson: We've got two stories here: a story about degenerate clergy, and a story about a bunch of lawyers turning child abuse into a cottage industry. Which story do you want us to write? Because we're writing one of them.

Mitchell Garabedian: If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.

Marty Baron: We need to focus on the institution, not the individual priests. Practice and policy; show me the church manipulated the system so that these guys wouldn't have to face charges, show me they put those same priests back into parishes time and time again. Show me this was systemic, that it came from the top, down.

Cardinal Law: If I can be of any help, Marty, don't hesitate to ask. I find that the city flourishes when its great institutions work together.

Marty Baron: Thank you. Personally I'm of the opinion that for a paper to best perform its function, it really needs to stand alone.

Walter 'Robby' Robinson: Baron told us to get the system. We need the full scope. That's the only thing that will put an end to this.

Mike Rezendes: Then let's take it up to Ben and let him decide.

Walter 'Robby' Robinson: We'll take it to Ben when I say it's time.

Mike Rezendes: They knew and they let it happen! To KIDS! Okay? It could have been you, it could have been me, it could have been any of us. We gotta nail these scumbags! We gotta show people that nobody can get away with this; Not a priest, or a cardinal or a freaking pope!

Peter Canellos: They say it's just physical abuse but it's more than that, this was spiritual abuse. You know why I went along with everything? Because priests, are supposed to be the good guys.

Sacha Pfeiffer: [about his molestation] Joe, did you ever try and tell anyone?

Joe Crowley: Like who, a priest?

Mike Rezendes: Do you still go to mass?

Richard Sipe: No, I haven't been to church for some time now but I still consider myself a Catholic.

Mike Rezendes: How does that work?

Richard Sipe: The Church is an institution, Mike, made of men. It's passing. My faith is in the eternal. I try to separate the two.

The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 6

Impact/Significance: 7.25

Novelty: 6.5

Classic-ness: 9

Rewatchability: 7.75

Audience Score: 9 (87% Google, 93% RT)

Total: 45.5

Remaining Questions:

  • None, this is a historical story, and most questions are answerable by Google.

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