Spotlight (opening today) is the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the wide-spread child molestation scandal within the Catholic Church. And just like the hard-working journalists it features, it’s all about the story, the story, the story.
The heinous activities of the Catholic Church were exposed by a group of relentless reporters, working as part of the “Spotlight” team: A task-force of sorts that specialized in long, investigative reporting (played by Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James). When new Globe editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber, in a career-best supporting performance) takes over, his is curious about a recent story that ran dealing with a local priest who had been found guilty of molesting a child. He puts the Spotlight team on the task, and they slowly begin to unravel the web of lies and the corruption that existed within the church.
Their search for the truth reveals much more than they ever even intended. This was not just a handful of priests in the Boston area, this was a global catastrophe, a systemic cancer within one of the largest, most powerful organizations on the planet. Not only were there widespread, large numbers of priests participating in this unthinkable behavior, but there seemed to be knowledge of these horrors all the way up to the Vatican, as well as evidence that they were making massive efforts to cover it all up.
The film unfolds like an star-studded episode of Law & Order and it is an important story to tell. At the same time, the film exists as a loving tribute to investigative print journalism, an industry that is all but dying in today’s world. As newspapers fold and journalists are increasingly laid off, it’s scary to think of the sort of stories we are NOT finding out about nowadays. Modern media is all about being “first,” facts be damned. The Spotlight crew, time and time again throughout the film, shows incredible restraint in not letting the story out too early, knowing that it is much more important to get it right than to just get it out.
As a film, the story itself, propped up on the shoulders of this amazing cast, drives and drives, and although it is almost all talking, it never feels dull or uninteresting. Late in the film, a fine line is crossed inadvertently a couple of times, where instead of just presenting things as they are (powerful enough on its own), some of our characters become a bit preachy and over-dramatic. It’s almost as if the filmmaker, Tom McCarthy, didn’t trust the audience to realize the gravity of the situation, or the toll these discoveries might take on the journalists involved…a mistake in my book, albeit a slight one.
But oddly, despite the horrendous subject, the film feels more like a jab instead of a forceful punch to the gut. There is a scene where Rachel McAdams’s character is interviewing a victim, and he tells her he was “molested” by a priest. She stops him, and urges him to get more graphic, more specific, because to just say the word “molested” wouldn’t carry with it the same emotional weight, and wouldn’t enact change. The entire movie feels like it did not take the advice of McAdams’s character. You don’t leave the theater feeling impacted as much as you probably should.
The movie seems to think it is much worse to drive home the quantity of the tragedy, of how many places this sort of misconduct existed and how it is a world-wide epidemic. But in showing how wide-spread the problem was/is, it seemed to water down the effect on the individual. Oddly, we don’t really get much screen time with the priests responsible for these sins, and therefore the monsters this film features exist mostly in the shadows. I thought this film was called Spotlight? We see the aftermath, but we never experience first-hand the criminals responsible.
As a showcase of the importance of investigative journalism in today’s world, Spotlight is spot-on. Many will mention this movie as being among the year’s best, and it definitely features one of the best ensemble casts of the year. For me though, it’s a few missteps short of being great. It’s sad to know that newspapers are dying, as are the kinds of journalism being practiced in the film. It’s scary to think of the extant of evil that still would exist within the Catholic Church, had it not been for the Spotlight team.
Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Run Time: 2 hours, 8 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian d’Arcy James, James Sheridan
Co-Written & Directed by Tom McCarthy (The Cobbler, Win Win, The Visitor, The Station Agent)
Opens locally on Friday, Nov 20, 2015 (check for show times).