Spotlight (2015) Review

Spotlight (2015) Director: Tom McCarthy

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse a child”


Spotlight is the true story of the Boston Globe reporters who uncovered the devastating scandal involving numerous Catholic priests who were abusing children for many decades. Hearkening back to the gritty journalistic style of All The President’s Men, Spotlight delivers a compelling film. For its efforts Spotlight won Best Picture along with Best Original Screenplay (the screenplay was put together based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning articles by the true Boston Globe’s investigative “Spotlight” team). The film somehow manages to entice the audience while still observing the administrative drudgery of digging through old records, making phone calls, and populating spreadsheets. We are reminded of the diligent, hard-work of journalists who expose corruption by shining a ‘spotlight’ in dark places. In the pre-internet world, Spotlight celebrates the old ways of traditional journalism, with its focus on procedure and people.

However, despite the hero-journalists at the heart of the film Spotlight addresses a dark subject matter: the rampant sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Church across the entire world. The film takes us back to the 1970s wherein Friar John Geoghan was arrested for child molestation but the arrest was promptly hushed by the District Attorney’s office. Then in 2001 a minor article emerges. An eccentric lawyer (played by Stanley Tucci) is suing Cardinal Bernard Law Archbishop of Boston for his alleged knowledge of Friar Geoghan’s illicit activity. Marty Baron (played by Liev Schreiber) becomes the new Managing Editor of the Globe and he encourages his investigative “Spotlight” team to dig into the story. The “Spotlight” team is played by Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James. The momentum for the story unfolds through these journalists eyes in a variety of montage sequences that successfully avoid the tendency toward cliche.

When the September 11 attacks hit, the Spotlight team’s story is placed on the back-burner. But when the dust settles they return to the story and go to print, exposing dozens of cases of pedophilic priests abusing their power, and the Catholic Church’s drastic efforts to cover up the stories. It rapidly turns into hundreds of regional cases of serious sexual abuse, and ultimately thousands worldwide. The scandal showcases the problems of silence everywhere in the insular world of Bostonian Catholicism, but also within the Boston Globe itself. Ultimately it took an outsider Jewish “foreigner” managing editor at the Boston Globe to push his team to expose one of the biggest scandals of the century. However, the question of blame in Spotlight successfully avoids launching an all-out assault on the Catholic Church, which would have been an easy perspective to take. Instead blame for these scandals is conferred upon the whole network of people, schools, therapists, police precincts, and so on who allowed these scandals to be swept under the rug. In some ways, the spotlight is shined on each of us for our complicity.

Spotlight takes all the monotony and minutia of in-depth research and yet offers a compelling and engaging story about a systemic scandal that has permanently damaged the future of the Catholic Church. It is a well-made film, one of the best of 2015, and certainly deserving of its Best Picture win.

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