The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.
It would be hard to make a bad film out of material as strong as ‘Spotlight’ has, but it isn’t easy to make a truly great film. Alongside a terrific cast, Tom McCarthy has crafted a terrific drama that strives for greatness and just about gets there. Focusing on an investigative unit at The Boston Globe known as ‘Spotlight’ (hence the title), the film depicts the teams investigations into child abuse cases involving the Catholic Church and their discovery of systemic child sex abuse at the heart of the church. In many respects ‘Spotlight’ feels like a film from the 70s, not just in the way that it’s style is similar to ‘All The President’s Men’, but in the way that this is an intelligent drama about a challenging subject not seen often enough these days.
The film begins by setting the scene. In 2001, ‘The Boston Globe’ hires a new Jewish editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), and one of his first acts of business is to urge the Spotlight team to look into the story of a pedophile priest amid rumours the Cardinal in Boston knew about it and did nothing to stop him. In a predominantly Catholic city, this is a highly charged accusation and once the team begin investigating they come across many people unwilling to talk and several people who actively wish to block their investigation. Initially looking at 1 or 2 priests, as the team dig deeper they start to discover the scale of the issue is far greater than initially expected, and that the cover up from those higher up in the church is even greater still. The scale of the problem is overwhelming and it’s hard to imagine how this would have affected these people who discovered the scandal, long before we’ve reached the unfortunate stage where child abuse and Catholicism are intrinsically linked with one another.
Tom McCarthy’s direction is subtle and unfussy, which is exactly what this kind of material demands. A story with as much power as this pretty much tells itself and McCarthy does a good job of allowing his actors to deliver on the material on the page. His direction is at its best in the moments where he subtly shows the sheer scale of the problem through short scenes that show the close proximity of a school to where a disgraced priest lives, or the loaded scenes where the journalists are quietly threatened by representatives of the church. Where ‘Spotlight’ excels is in showing how deeply ingrained this despicable affair was within the Catholic Church and in outlining how the abuse was covered up and allowed to continue for so long. In a city where a religious institution holds such sway, it’s quite frightening how much they can get away with.
This is a film about investigative journalism very much in the spirit of ‘All The President’s Men’, although I thought that ‘Spotlight’ lacks the ‘fire in the belly’ that something like that film had and the approach to the material felt more documentarian. That’s not a bad thing, and ‘Spotlight’ is a great film, but it does mean it lacks the intensity or thriller aspects that could have made this a true masterpiece. The script is delivered by a uniformly great cast and it’s hard to single anyone out for special praise, although I did find Mark Ruffalo to be less subtle than normal and he slightly oversells his big moment. The script is detailed and covers many aspects of the investigation without ever feeling like information overload and that’s testament to the writers and the performers for getting the balance right.
I found ‘Spotlight’ to be an engrossing and gripping drama that does justice to its shocking subject matter with a suitably powerful narrative and strong performances throughout the cast. Highly recommended.
Directed By: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Brian d’Arcy James, Jamey Sheridan, Billy Crudup, Richard Jenkins and Len Cariou