Michael Keaton and the City of Boston Star in Spotlight 

click to enlarge Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Brian d'Arcy James in Spotlight.

Kerry Hayes/Open Road Films

Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Brian d'Arcy James in Spotlight.

Spotlight, the true story of the Boston Globe's 2001 investigation into claims of pedophilia committed by Catholic priests, is a relatively rare mystery-drama hybrid, a newspaper-room procedural in the manner of All the President's Men. The main events, the crimes being investigated, have already happened — offscreen and long before the film begins — so the real action comes from the scenes of reporters digging through files, struggling to win the trust of potential sources and putting all the pieces together. There's not much small talk, no human-interest subplots or back-stories. Nothing but a team of reporters, led by Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo, poring over old records and accumulating rejections. It's a suspense film by default, simply because the heroes never get a chance to rest.

It's also the latest in the growing body of films set in Boston, most of them presenting the Cradle of Liberty as one of America's most metropolitan areas, but also one of its most ancient, where privilege, tradition and a well-divided class structure serve to protect prejudices and institutions dating back to the pilgrims. Films such as Mystic River and The Departed have played on the city's mythology to create a kind of Boston noir, but Spotlight is more chilling because it deals with a conspiracy far more invasive and well-protected than simple mobsters.

This is not just a true film, but a film about the lengths people go to uncover truth. It's a simple film — with another great performance by Keaton — and an heroic one.

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