After Mystic River and The Departed, I was in no mood to expect much from another expensive, topical drama set in Boston and playing to the Oscars committees. But Spotlight is good at what it does, and just plain good too. It doesn't hurt that the braying overplayed Boston accents of those other projects are kept to a minimum. It seems like recently any movie involving political scandal gets compared with All the President's Men, but Spotlight is more like that movie than any other I've seen in some time—cool, committed, with a certain gravitas, and focused on journalists doing the right thing, tracking down an amazing story, in this case the widespread sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy and the systematic cover-up of it by the Catholic hierarchy for years and decades—or centuries. We actually still don't know the full extent, but we know more than before the Boston Globe finally broke it in early 2002, in its "Spotlight" section, which was devoted to long-term investigative journalism. It also doesn't hurt that the cast is a walking, talking powerhouse of talent and/or fuzzy familiarity: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton (who I usually don't like), Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, Jamey Sheridan, and the voice of Richard Jenkins—they're all at least above average (though Ruffalo plays it with a strangely abstracted tone). It's directed by Tom McCarthy, an actor whose directing projects also include The Station Agent, The Visitor, and Win Win, which are all worth seeing. So is Spotlight. It's a message picture, obviously, with an eye on the Oscars, but like All the President's Men—which was also Oscar-bait, remember (albeit in something of a less crass time, or maybe that's me)—more decked out in the rhythms of a thriller. They don't have to bang too hard on the crime itself. The details uncovered do the work of ginning up outrage naturally, delivered as a matter of depositions and sealed court records and cagey, dancing reporter interactions. Because of the time and place and circumstances, other stories intrude, notably 9/11, a new editor at the Globe who happens to be its first Jewish editor ever, and the continuing assault on the newspaper business model by the Internet. But mostly Spotlight maintains its focus on the story, and the crimes, which are shocking. The picture is sensitive without having an agenda. In fact, it's a good deal more patient with the actions of the church and its parishioners than me. But I take that to mean it also understands better than me how central the institution is to the life of the community in Boston. That only suggests further the enormity of what the church has done, and continues to do. But that's me on the soapbox, not this movie. This is a very intense movie, and even when a cell phone went off in the seat directly behind me my head stayed in it. That's probably a pretty good recommendation by itself.