28 January 2016 | 10:55 am | Guy Davis

"Spotlight moves like a thriller, probes like a documentary and inspires dread like a horror movie."

Tom McCarthy's fact-based drama Spotlight moves like a thriller, probes like a documentary and inspires dread like a horror movie.

Dramatising the investigation by a team of Boston journalists into the ongoing sexual abuse of children by members of the city's Catholic clergy, and a cover-up that reached to the highest and most influential levels, this utterly compelling film uses an understated approach that works in perfect conjunction with its powerful, heartbreaking and infuriating material.

When the Boston Globe's new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) notices a column mentioning a possibly hushed-up abuse case involving the Church, he assigns the story to the four-person team in the paper's Spotlight section, dedicated to long-term, in-depth reportage, calling it "an essential story for a local paper".

That is is, but the Catholic Church has massive clout in Boston, both politically and ideologically, and joining the various dots proves enormously challenging for Spotlight editor Walter 'Robby' Robinson (Michael Keaton, excellently subtle) and his journalists Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo, electrifyingly driven), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James).

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Many abuse survivors are reluctant to go on the record, and Church bigwigs have systems in place to sweep the wrongdoing of wayward priests under the rug. But the information is there, and the reporters gradually find ways to uncover it, even as they're increasingly appalled by the extent of corruption, collusion and compromise.

Without bestowing sainthood on its characters (it's too straightforward for that, to its credit), Spotlight is a glowing tribute to the best practices of the press. The diligence of the journalists and their allies — including Stanley Tucci as a cantankerous lawyer who has devoted his career to Church abuse cases — is depicted vividly, whether it's going through pages of paperwork in search of a clue or placing a long-time friendship on the line to secure a lead.