Now playing in most theatrical venues around the northeast, including those of Philadelphia, director and co-writer Thomas McCarthy’s (best known for 2003’s “The Station Agent” and Disney’s masterful “Up”) “Spotlight” is a deft, succinct, assured, and powerful movie. Parsimoniously and courageously written as well as directed, McCarthy elicits spectacular, understated performances from Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Live Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, Brian d’Arcy James, John Slattery and an Oscar-calibrated Mark Ruffalo, who single-handedly turns in one of the most blinding, pitch-perfect performances of finely-titrated rage ever caught on celluloid.
Not since “The Insider” has a film about investigative journalism exposing sustained and horrific moral turpitude by willful arrogance and denial been so spot-on and well-executed. A medium reinforcing the importance of media- and of journalism- as essential in a democratic society- is perhaps the most important take-away, too. The fact that the internet is threatening investigative journalism, in some ways, is another disturbing inference here as well. Perhaps the most remarkable accomplishment of “Spotlight” is how it provides so many specific vocal dialogues to the people who fell victim to the Catholic Church’s sustained, willful denial and unethical sustaining of predatory pedophilic (both homosexual and heterosexual) behavior among up to 6% of its priests, a disturbing statistic given all the long-denied attention it deserves in sad, key places within this story. Lifted from the journal articles, from reality, gay victims are given a voice. Straight victims are given a voice. Yet their voices never feel stilted or again exploited by Hollywood- this is an authentic, needed film about the corruption of power.
The victims, truly, of such collective groupthink that destroyed thousands of childhoods and lives are the strength of this film. It becomes a story of wayward, impoverished, preyed-upon children, grown into adults, who struggle to battle the very Goliath of the Church that controlled and control not only so much property and financial ends in Boston, but the hearts and minds of its denizens as well, many complicit in this too. So many of the specific, traumatized life stories had a tendency to get lost and overshadowed in the outrage and collective anger following the 2002 Boston Globe shocking article series detailing proof of the unethical, evil behavior of the Catholic Church in its Boston Diocese (and, as the sad and true text at the end of this film indicates, countless other global cities.) This film spares no punches, nor sanitizes anything- we are given specific, harrowing, time-sequenced reality through investigative interviews trying to discover the specific methodologies the Catholic Church used to cover up their a-priori knowledge of psychosexual pathologies among its “celibate” clergy.
We learn how lawyers “just doing their job”- a line echoing another time, another place, and another type of genocide since past yet still relevant to shock and describe what went on- were complicit in these extremes. And most disturbing is how The Boston Globe realized, as the Spotlight investigated further and further, how not even they themselves could come out of the Catholic Church’s collective shadow with hands pure or clean. Anyone who supports and sustains organized religion is challenged to try an appropriate self-reflective glance when watching this film. And, as a character who was a former priest, married to a former nun, says during the film, their faith “is in the eternal”, whereas the Catholic Church, “like men”, might be seen as dying. Or at least changing. It is one of the film’s most astute moments. Thankfully Pope Francis addressed and continues to address these issues directly, and hopefully the Catholic Church’s future regulation regarding sexual abuse, as one would pray exists now, is to immediately defrock anyone who abuses a child. If not arrest them.
Entertainment at its best. Seek it out.