OP-ROB RATING: LEGEND
“Spotlight” is a film directed by Thomas McCarthy about The Boston Globe’s investigation of sex abuse within the Roman Catholic Church in and around Boston. Within the Globe, the particular investigative team is called “Spotlight” and is led by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton). Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), and Ben Bradlee (John Slattery) make up the rest of the investigative team. In the opening scenes these characters roam about the busy office of the Globe working on finding a new topic that deserves Spotlight’s attention. Their choice is essentially made for them when the new editor of the Globe, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), pushes Robby to investigate the Catholic Church and the possibility of a sex abuse scandal involving more than a few rogue priests. As a new editor, a Jew, and a non-Bostonian, Baron is not the most popular man in the office at the beginning of the film. Despite a fair amount of pushback, Robby and his team reluctantly begin work. Within the first couple weeks of investigation, the Spotlight team discovers that they have stumbled upon something far bigger than expected. As each reporter discovers more bad priests, more victims, more cover-ups, and more excuses, the story might risk losing focus. However, in “Spotlight” McCarthy sticks to the actual reporters, as each is affected by the investigation in different and profound ways.
“Spotlight” deals with such horrific issues that it is often hard to watch. In one scene where Sacha interviews a survivor, she explains that he must give more detail than simply saying, "molested". For the sake of her story she needs to know exactly what happened. Many of the interviews with victims are disturbing and gut-wrenching. As the film reveals, many of the individuals who are molested by priests go on to lead abject adult lives filled with emotion instability, drug addiction and sometimes suicide. The scenes with survivors revealing sickening details are tough to sit through, but even tougher are the scenes where the bigger picture is revealed. The revelation that it is not just “a few bad apples” in the priesthood is the hardest to stomach. A watershed moment in the film comes when an expert reveals to the Spotlight team that extensive research indicates that 6% of priests are involved in pedophilic activity during their careers. After hearing this statistic the team simply sits in shock; so does the audience.
The most impressive aspect of “Spotlight” is the simplicity of the film. Most scenes are presented an unloaded frame, with people simply speaking to one another. Characters talk to each other and McCarthy allows them to act instead of constantly cutting to close-ups or ramping up a shot. While all of the performances are excellent, the very best are delivered by Stanley Tucci as Mitchell Garabedian and Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rizendes. Garabedian is an explosive lawyer for those affected by pedophile priests. He is a man who knows just how horrible the situation is and how evil the are actions to cover it up. Rizendes is one of the reporters on the story, and the investigation pulls at him the most visibly. As a lapsed Catholic, Rizendes explains in one scene how he thought that he would always return to the faith. Even though he was no longer a practicing Catholic, the fact that it was still there for him was important, and what Spotlight has discovered has destroyed any possibility of return to the church. As Rizendes finishes his thought, he explains to Sacha that it’s a “shitty feeling”.
I had seen the Alex Gibney documentary “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God” before seeing “Spotlight”, so I was pretty familiar with this widespread problem. Gibney’s documentary is quite good, but it gets so wound up in the overall spectacle of the scandal that it feels somewhat detached. “Spotlight”, however, is anything but distant. The dialogue is intuitive and stimulating. Each progression of the story is pointed and concise. While the issue of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is a major theme of the film, “Spotlight” is focused on the courageous men and women who brought it to light. While it is certainly not a film that I would watch for enjoyment, “Spotlight” is a superb work of film, and vitally important as a topic of contemporary society.