SpotlightTuesday, November 17th, 2015 3:38 pm—Film
Spotlight (USA 2015, Biography/Drama/History), Writers: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer; Director: Tom McCarthy
In a 2013 interview on The Colbert Report, British philosopher, humanist and author A.C. Grayling proclaimed that, on the whole, religion has done “far more harm” than good. Grayling was on the show to discuss his book The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism.
Tom McCarthy’s new film, Spotlight, makes a similar case. It depicts the 2001 investigation by The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team into the pandemic of child sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church. The journalists’ commitment to wrenching the story out of darkness finally exposed the cover-up that had been quietly documented for decades, and almost certainly going on for much longer.
Spotlight is about the process, the daily grind of bringing such a sweeping story to the foreground. It doesn’t focus on sensationalized reenactments of molestation, or low-angle shots of sinister priests with cheekbones chiseled from shadow. It doesn’t spin the narrative as a thriller because it doesn’t need to. The subject matter is horrifying enough.
Instead, Spotlight hones in on the individual steps each of the reporters must take to pull the story together: late nights at the library; hours squinting through archives in dimly lit basements; interviews and interview attempts; frequent meetings with lawyers; stale hot dogs and leftover pizza dinners.
The film lets us hear some of the survivors’ stories. But even those are seen through distanced eyes, as the reporters target the facts and not the emotions. Because, as the Globe team points out, it isn’t about one particular case of abuse, or even 87; it’s about the system that allowed it to happen.
McCarthy is a perfect choice for covering this subject matter. In his deft hands, watching journalists pore over documents and answer phones isn’t dull; it’s compelling.
He’s already proven his gift for pacing and his light touch with actors, most notably with The Visitor (see The Visitor review from May 2008)—and Win Win (see the Win Win review from October 2011) was also a victory. With Spotlight, McCarthy makes full use of his talents, expertly directing an exceptional ensemble cast that more than does justice to their real-life counterparts.
The Spotlight Team includes lead Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton, fresh from his incredible turn in Birdman), and his reporters Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams, delivering some of her best work yet, in a carefully studied performance that follows a string of progressively more interesting and challenging roles; her artistic integrity makes me keen to feature her on Kickass Canadians) and Mike Rezendes (the always magnetic Mark Ruffalo—see The Kids Are All Right review from July 2010).
Spotlight also features fine work from Liev Schreiber as the Globe’s new editor, Marty Baron; John Slattery as deputy managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr.; Billy Crudup as morally questionable attorney Eric MacLeish; and Stanley Tucci as Mitchell Garabedian, the extraordinary lawyer who fought, and continues to fight, on behalf of sexual abuse survivors. Tucci is a high point in every film he graces, but it’s especially nice to see his 2010 portrayal of a child sex offender in The Lovely Bones (see The Lovely Bones review from January 2010) offset here by a well-drawn portrait of a man looking to correct the crime.
Excluding MacLeish, this dedicated group bands together to challenge an authority so entrenched, almost no one is willing to fight back. Its reach extends far and wide, within Boston and throughout the world, keeping people from speaking out against even the most horrific abuse of the most innocent among us.
Some of the journalists struggle with their own complicity in the scandal; they were all raised Catholic—how could they not have known? But as Garabedian, a man of Armenian descent, points out, “it takes an outsider” to clearly see the situation and be prepared to expose it. Case in point: It wasn’t until Baron, a Jewish newcomer to Boston (or “an unmarried man of the Jewish faith who hates baseball”), came on as Globe editor that the Catholic Church investigation was finally assigned to Robinson’s team.
Spotlight offers a damning, if cool-headed, indictment of religion, its power to corrupt and its potential as a weapon of mass destruction when held in the wrong hands. The film tells this message through incidents that took place nearly 15 years ago (and then some). Yet its message is still urgently relevant today.
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The Spotlight Team won a 2003 Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Their groundbreaking article, “Church allowed abuse by priest for years,” was published January 6, 2002.
Thanks to Cinemablographer‘s Patrick Mullen for the earlybird tickets to Spotlight. The film opens across Canada on November 20, 2015; I highly recommend it.
If you’d like a chance to see sneak previews of upcoming films, visit Cinemablographer’s contest page. (He’s also got lots of great reviews, so check it out!)