Tom McCarthy is the best humanistic filmmaker in movies today.
His movies have both a keen brain and fertile soul. His first three films - The Station Agent (2003), The Visitor (2007), and Win Win (2011) - all were on my Best 10 lists of the year.
[Last year's The Cobbler, with Adam Sandler, was not.]
With Spotlight, McCarthy is back at the top of his game. Spotlight is workmanlike and artistic. But most of all, it has McCarthy's indomitable focus on the human condition.
The Station Agent, The Visitor, and Win Win all featured outsiders - individuals outside the system. Systems, institutions, groupthink were their enemies. This time in Spotlight, the institution of religion and its protectors oppress humanity.
Spotlight is about individuals caught in the vice of a system and its tentacles. As one character says, "It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to abuse one."
Spotlight is in McCarthy's wheelhouse. Being a graduate of Boston College, he knows both the physical locale and the locale of the human heart.
The story is "based on actual events." I really admire McCarthy's writing "actual," instead of "true." But, as usual, he finds the truth in actuality.
Beginning in 1962, Spotlight develops into a story about how a 4-person team of investigative journalists - called Spotlight - at the Boston Globe gruelingly revealed a scandal of priests abusing children in Boston and beyond, and the religious hierarchy covering it up. It became a national scandal in 2002.
Since McCarthy is an actor himself - he portrayed the odious reporter in TV's The Wire -, he has a special gift as director of fellow actors.
He gets a lot of power and personality out of his stellar cast in Spotlight.
In fact, McCarthy nearly humanizes Liev Schreiber's performance as Marty Baron, the editor, too much. The editor is so cool, and has such quiet dignity he almost doesn't seem authentic. But Schreiber brings a welcome grace to the mess.
In contrast, Stanley Tucci, as an attorney, wonderfully exhibits a palpable distrust of everything and everyone.
Michael Keaton is at his best as team leader Robbie Robinson, with his patented moments of quirkiness. Looking almost bewildered at times, he brings the important quality of credibility throughout.
Mark Ruffalo, as reporter Michael Rezendes, is the most passionate of the group, in his headlong pursuit of knowledge.
Rachel McAdams makes gathering facts and clippings as interesting as it could be. She's Beauty on the Beat.
Brian d'Arcy James is solid as the 4th member of Spotlight, even though he has some thankless moments out of the office.
Billy Crudup and Jamey Sheridan put human faces on those whose job is to protect the system at all costs, even moral ones.
The literate screenplay by McCarthy and Josh Singer builds impact as the journalists get closer to the appalling truth.
The concept of truth is almost meaningless in today's society inundated with ads - a new pharmaceutical product every day -, commerciality, and rampant political propaganda. Facts are irrelevant. They're optional.
But Spotlight reminds us that truth matters. It shines a flickering light on the battles humans must wage to discover and protect it.
McCarthy's faith is in film.