In late October, the real-life subjects of Oscar-tipped drama Spotlight fielded questions from School of Journalism students and faculty following a packed advance screening of the film at the AMC Loews Boston Common.
The movie, which opened nationwide Nov. 6, charts the Boston Globe Spotlight team’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston’s institutional protection of pedophile priests. Reviews have been tremendously positive thus far, with the Thomas McCarthy-directed film’s 96% Certified Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes marking it as one of the year’s best-reviewed new releases.
And as one might expect given the subject matter, Spotlight played exceptionally well with a crowd of past, present and future journalists, which supplied a minutes-long standing ovation as the credits rolled.
That applause eventually died down, but audience members soon rose to their feet again when the real-life reporters at the film’s core appeared on hand, ready to discuss the Hollywood dramatization of their work.
Present for the Q&A were Northeastern School of Journalism alumnus Walter V. Robinson (AS’74), who served as the Spotlight team’s editor, former Spotlight projects editor Ben Bradlee Jr. and Spotlight reporters Michael Rezendes, Sacha Pfeiffer and Matt Carroll.
During the discussion, moderated by Journalism School Director Jonathan Kaufman, the reporters praised the film’s accuracy in depicting the slow, methodical route their investigation took, instead of simply inventing moments of dramatic tension and complication that never occurred. The journalists also said they were pleased with the performances of the actors chosen to portray them.
Oscar nominee Michael Keaton (Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) stars in the film as Robinson, leading an ensemble cast that includes John Slattery as Bradlee, Mark Ruffalo as Rezendes, Rachel McAdams as Pfeiffer and Brian D’Arcy James as Carroll.
Prof. Dan Kennedy was especially taken with Keaton’s turn as Robinson. “For those of us who know and worked with Robby when he was a professor at the School of Journalism, Michael Keaton was Robby,” he said. “He had his mannerisms down pat. Keaton walked like Robby, talked like Robby and even looked like Robby.”
Prof. Bill Kirtz added that supporting actors Stanley Tucci (as child abuse victims’ lawyer Mitchell Garabedian) and Liev Schreiber (as Globe editor Marty Baron) “disappear into their roles.”
Kirtz, who favorably compared Spotlight to newsroom classic All the President’s Men, was also impressed with Spotlight’s refusal to sanctify the reporters and the reporting at its heart.
“The film doesn’t portray this ink-stained crew as pure heroes,” he said. “It depicts false starts and squabbles and gives some welcome credit to other papers’ stories that ran before the Globe’s massive 2002 series sparked scores of similar revelations across the country.”
Sophomore journalism major Olivia Arnold said she was equally thrilled with the film and the Q&A that accompanied it.
“As a journalism major, it was incredibly empowering to see Spotlight showcase how journalism can incite important societal changes,” she said. “I was honored to be able to hear from the real-life journalists in the Spotlight team. It was great to hear them talk about their experiences, and definitely inspiring for a room full of the next generation of journalists.”
Sophomore journalism major Audrey Cooney was also a fan of the film, and she commended the Q&A session. “It was awesome to see these immensely talented journalists in the flesh, and I really loved what they had to say… about the importance of investigative journalism,” she said.
Cooney singled out a piece of advice from Carroll as her favorite moment of the evening.
“Matt Carroll said something that I particularly liked – he mentioned that young journalists shouldn’t be discouraged by the decline in the newspaper industry, and that the platform on which a story is published doesn’t impact its quality,” she said. “I thought was really great seeing as, as a journalism major, people bring that up with me all the time.”