‘Spotlight’ spotlights journalism at its finest
By Bob Bloom
“Spotlight” is a difficult movie to watch without becoming disgusted with and ashamed of, not only leaders of the Catholic church, but the secular establishment that looked the other way and failed to acknowledge the sexual abuses perpetrated on the most innocent of victims — children.
The film, co-written and directed by Tom McCarthy, centers on the investigation by the Spotlight reporting team at the Boston Globe that, in 2000, uncovered a serious and disturbing scandal. The reporters years-long investigation found that victims were paid hush money and, instead of being punished, priests were simply shuttled from parish to parish, thus allowing them to repeat their offenses.
“Spotlight” avoids sensationalism, telling its lurid story in a low-key, even-keeled manner. It is by far the best movie about investigative journalism since “All the President’s Men.”
The most horrifying and insidious aspect of “Spotlight” is not only the systemic reach of child abuse by priests but the cover-up by the Catholic lay institutions. They consider protecting the reputation of the church more important than the lives of its victims — who are mostly at-risk children from low-income families who were vulnerable and easy prey for these clerical predators.
“Spotlight” is a paean to the importance of investigative journalism, something that the vast majority of today’s newspapers no longer have the resources — financial or personnel — to organize, or even want to invest the time to undertake.
Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James head the cast as the Spotlight team. Keaton portrays team editor Walter “Robby” Robinson, while Ruffalo, McAdams and d’Arcy James are, respectively, reporters Michael Rezendes, Sacha Pfeiffer and Matty Carroll. Smartly, none of them hogs the screen; like their journalistic counterparts, they work as a team to bring the story to life.
Also worth noting is the understated performance of Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron, the Globe’s new editor who initiates the Spotlight investigation.
The cast also includes Stanley Tucci as an eccentric attorney who has been fighting the church for years to try getting compensation for several abuse victims, John Slattery as Globe editor Ben Bradlee Jr., who is skeptical and fearful of what the investigation will do to the paper, Bill Crudup as a lawyer representing the church, Jamey Sheridan as a powerful church supporter and Len Cariou as Cardinal Law, the archbishop of Boston.
McCarthy also makes the city itself a character, displaying the predominately Catholic metropolis’ tight-knit community, which closes ranks around the church and pressures the newspaper and its reporters to back off its probe.
A touch of anti-Semitism within the city’s establishment is noted as a few church supporters constantly remind Robinson and his team that the paper’s new editor is an outsider and a Jew who has no ties or loyalties to Boston.
While the film’s revelations are explosive, McCarthy keeps a lid on the story, not allowing the revelations to erupt and holding the emotional turmoil the investigation creates to a minimum.
“Spotlight” is one of the best movies of the year. It tells its story in a sensitive and nearly objective manner, avoiding exploitation of the situation, while quietly showing the emotional and mental devastation the church’s lack of action and concern wreaked on its victims, who, even as adults, continue to bear the scars of their betrayals.
The film probably will make many Catholics uncomfortable. It may, however, encourage others to speak out, for as the end credits sadly remind us, this problem is not singularly confined to the Boston area.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
4 stars out of 4
(R), mature and disturbing themes, language