Tom McCarthy’s rigorous journalism procedural “Spotlight” came into its gala premiere screening at the Toronto International Film Festival as the fall’s most talked-about movie. But then, who was doing the talking? Journalists covering the Venice and Telluride film festivals, a pushover audience for a movie that celebrates the power and honor of investigative reporting.
“It’s almost a journalist’s duty to love this movie, right?” asked Boston Globe reporter Sacha Pfeiffer, part of the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Spotlight” team that investigated a pedophilia scandal within the Catholic Church. “I just wonder if moviegoers are going to love it as much.”
The answer came midway through the premiere screening when the 2,000 people inside the Princess of Wales Theatre roared their approval after a scene in which Michael Keaton, playing Spotlight editor Walter Robinson, tells a stonewalling attorney to cooperate or else he’ll become the focus of their investigation. The audience cheered again later in the film during a moment that we won’t spoil ... but it’s a beauty.
Five days into the Toronto festival, “Spotlight” stands as the only movie to generate applause during the film and afterward, when the credits roll. Monday’s premiere brought out heightened emotions as all the members of the Globe’s reporting team, along with Marty Baron, the editor who spearheaded the investigation, took to the stage with their actor counterparts following the screening.
“We were all getting teary-eyed up there,” Ben Bradlee Jr., the Globe’s deputy managing editor, said later at a very crowded party for the movie at Toronto’s Soho House.
“Which must mean we did something right, because those guys don’t cry,” added John Slattery, who plays Bradlee in the movie.
McCarthy (“The Station Agent”), who directed and co-wrote “Spotlight” with Josh Singer, has pulled off what Pfeiffer considers an almost impossible feat. He meticulously shows the tedium and drudgery involved in a lengthy investigative reporting project but conveys it in a way that’s completely absorbing.
“There’s a reason it’s getting compared to ‘All the President’s Men,’ right?” Keaton said at the party.
Beginning in 2001, the Globe’s team spent months buidling its story proving Boston archdiocese leaders knew that there was widespread sexual abuse among its priests but did little or nothing about it. After the film ends, title cards detail locales of Catholic sex abuse scandals uncovered worldwide after the Globe investigation. It takes four cards, each filling the screen, to list all the places.
A post-screening Q&A completely filled the stage with McCarthy and the film’s ensemble -- Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Slattery, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d’Arcy James and Liev Schreiber -- joined by the Globe team depicted in the movie -- Pfeiffer, Bradlee, Baron, Matt Carroll, Michael Rezendes and Robinson.
“This guy learned more about me than I ever wanted to tell him,” Rezendes said, pointing to Ruffalo. In turn, Ruffalo, outspoken on social justice issues (and proud of it), expressed appreciation to the reporters for their work and allowing the actors to observe them.
“You lifted the hood off the engine, and it wasn’t always pretty,” Ruffalo said. “You changed the world ... giving voice to those who didn’t have a voice.”
“Spotlight” will open on Nov. 6 in select cities and will be in theaters nationwide by Thanksgiving. The Venice-Telluride-Toronto festival trifecta complete, the film will head into its commercial release and awards season with ample goodwill. With its impeccable ensemble (the Screen Actors Guild is going to go crazy for this group), superb storytelling and system-bucking true story, this is a movie that could go far.
Put it this way: It won’t be long before the Pulitzer isn’t the only prize associated with this group.