Based on true events, Spotlight tells us how a team of journalists at the Boston Globe took on the Catholic Church to expose a systemic pattern of child abuse and cover ups.
Once the Spotlight section of the Boston Globe newspaper are assigned their new exposé, the film’s pace rarely lets up. The majority of the its two hour runtime sees the reporters chasing up lawyers from both sides, interviewing victims and cutting through legal red tape. All while trying not to let the story out too soon in order to maximise the impact against as many offenders as possible.
Make no mistake, Spotlight is a film focussing on the journalists’ side, you’ll find no scenes depicting the Catholic Church trying to thwart their efforts, mainly because so much of the investigation took place in secrecy. Instead, the Spotlight team are forced to open up old wounds by appealing to victims and doggedly hounding the Church’s many defence lawyers and urging them to do the right thing. Proving the Church’s shockingly long and deeply ingrained history of covering for their molesting priests is made all the harder as the Church has became au fait at silencing any vocal victims through settling out of court.
A strong ensemble cast show the Spotlight team’s voracious desire to leave no stone unturned and fight tirelessly for answers despite them being advised to drop the story by everyone outside of The Boston Globe, and the Church’s lawyers hiding being attorney-client privilege. It’s highly engaging, but the fast pace occasionally threatens to derail the experience. So much of the film is a blur of names and phone calls; you simply must devote every cell of your attention to it in order to appreciate every hurried exchange between characters. If a few of the scenes had been a little less rushed, the additional breathing room may have allowed for some viewer reflection, not to mention an easier time remembering who’s who as a storm of names are thrown at you.
Initially, I thought most of the reporters came across as a little too driven, maybe more obsessed with chasing the thrill of a big takedown with their investigation, instead of delivering actual justice for the victims. Rachel McAdams (playing Sacha Pfeiffer) being the one consistent exception who we see interview more (now adult) survivors in some of the film’s sadder scenes that take a vital break to remind the audience about what horrors, breaches of trust and child rape the reporters want to punish. With so many churches around Boston, we see how some victims literally live in the shadow of the Catholic Church.
But then there’s something of a shift in the film, and we finally see the reporters’ hardened professionalism crumble a little as their frustrations and anger finally come to the surface. Finally, we see their human side; they just want to see people punished for inflicting decades of such unashamed horror upon children. Mark Ruffalo’s Mike Rezendes leads the charge here, being the first to ‘break’ and show us the investigation is so much more than ‘another story’ to them. I’m pretty sure that Oscar is already engraved.
Spotlight is a mass of acting talent though and features the best ensemble performance in years. Michael Keaton is excellent as Walter Robinson, the experienced Spotlight section editor and Rachel McAdams ensures a warm, gentle approach to some sensitive interview scenes. Liev Schreiber’s short role as the Globe’s new editor commands enough weight to believe his Marty Baron would not be deterred from demanding such a controversial assignment on what appeared to be his first day in charge, despite over half of his readers being Catholic.
What’s incredibly refreshing about the film is its pure focus. There’s little attempt (and no need) to paint a picture of the team’s lives outside of work. We’re informed Rezendes is separated from his wife and he’s currently living in a basic temporary apartment. It only needs a few seconds to tell us this is down to him working too much and, for the sake of the film, that’s all that’s needed. Keaton’s Robinson is really the only other character that we see outside of work but even a meeting with an old pal is used as a way to show how far back and widespread the child abuse is. Not one scene is superfluous.
As with so many of these cases around the world, it’s made all the darker by knowing that there are so many more victims who never came forwards, a chilling iceberg tip the film is careful not to forget. Don’t hold out much hope for a sense of closure during the pre-credits closing text explaining the story’s post-publication fallout though, it’s more like a final kick in the teeth and a reminder that there’s still so much more to do.