Spotlight is the latest film from director and writer Tom McCarthy. It recounts the story of The Boston Globe’s crack investigative journalism unit, Spotlight, and it’s investigation in to Catholic priests molesting children in Boston from the 1960’s through to the late 1990’s.
Their investigation into these horrendous events proved to be the catalyst for similar investigations in to the actions of pedophile priests across the world, including Ireland.
McCarthy has assembled some of today’s best acting talent in Hollywood to bring the work of the investigate journalists’ to the big screen. With Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery and Brian d’Arcy James all giving career defining performances it’s a tour de force of fist-on-the-table banging and impassioned acting. No surprise two of its cast members, Ruffalo and McAdams, are up for Oscars and the movie itself is nominated for a total of six including Best Motion Picture of the Year.
From the movies outset Ruffalo is outstanding as one of the Spotlight journalists, Michael Rezendes. He is entirely deserving of his Best Supporting Actor nomination. Ruffalo stands out from the rest of the cast with his impeccable ability to consistently portray the tiniest of his character’s physical traits and habits.
When he stands straight his hands are always in the pockets, shoulders slightly hunched and his thumbs always sticking through the front two belt loops on his jeans. Its little things like this that help portray a character in a realistic way and allows the audience to establish a connection with them. Not only this, Ruffalo’s finest moment comes in an outburst of bewilderment and frustration at his editor’s decision to postpone the publication of the piece revealing several priests’ hidden crimes before they find out about any more potential leads.
The tiny traits ability is one that the entire cast are incredibly well versed in. Each member of the Spotlight team has moments from their personal lives shown on screen to contrast with their profession. These range from one of the team, Matt Carol (d’Arcy) finding out one of the suspected pedophile priests lives just around the corner from his family’s home to Sacha Pfeiffer’s (McAdams) struggle over not telling her deeply religious, church going Grandmother about her work.
At these moments an insight is given to the audience in to the reality of investigative journalism. These insights were something McCarty as a director was keen to portray. He was determined to demonstrate the personal psychological strains as well as personal on the real people involved in uncovering the truth. The journalist’s involved knew revelations on that magnitude would be enough to shake not only Boston but also the Catholic Church to their very cores.
Spotlight carries with it a very heavy reminder of exactly how important top notch investigate reporting skills still are in the 21st century. Without the work of the actual Spotlight the crimes committed by pedophile priests against children all over the world would may have not come to light for a lot longer. The movie can also be seen to serve as some closure for the victims involved in the cases as it tells the stories of two victims exactly as they were described during the course of the investigation.
Though the outcome of everything may be known to the majority of an audience the director and cast were successful in maintaining suspense through out. There is not a single moment where the audience might lose focus as with every scene there’s new information or a moment of conflict. One key moment is the meeting of the new editor to the Globe, Marty Baron played by Liev Schreiber, and the cardinal of Boston, Bernard F. Law.
The cardinal called the traditional meeting of the new editor in the hopes of maintaining their pleasant relationship with the paper. The stern, humourless Baron refutes this attempt at buttering them up and politely states that a paper can only run at its best when it is completely independent. Therein lies the repeated message of a Church afraid of its crimes and its best attempts to cover to keep prying eyes at bay. This is seen throughout the film numerous times at various levels and other institutions across Boston.
McCarthy spent three years researching the movie along with co-writer Josh Singer. In reality it took years of searching, cutting red tape and uncovering the depth of the scandal to make it all public knowledge. McCarthy made sure to make it know the lengths the Church went through to hush everything up. Moving priests from parish to parish, destroying public records in the city of Boston’s legal department as well as using lawyers to keep claims as minimal and as quiet as possible.
However its the final frames of the film which truly hammer home the almost incomprehensible level of injustice. The archbishop of Boston, the aforementioned Law, was taken out of the city and subsequently received the position of Cardinal Priest of the Santa Susanna. This is a very high ranking office within the Vatican and he was appointed by Pope John Paul II. The man who covered up the crimes of all the priests in Boston, who covered up the molestation of an estimated total of over 1,000 children, ended up fleeing halfway round the world and was only forced to resign that position after the story was published.
No priest faced criminal charges for their crimes despite some openly admitting to and seeing nothing wrong with their crimes. Finally a long list of other scandals around the world fill the screen. It is not one list on one frame but it is one list on several frames. A long list of parishes around the world where the cover ups of pedophile priests by the Church were later uncovered.
This a story that is sadly not unknown in Ireland. Four Irish parishes appear on the list at the end of this movie. Following the end of the film there was a very obvious feeling of disgust and simple sadness at the story behind this gripping newsroom drama.
Spotlight brings the process and results of investigative, long form journalism to an audience who in a world of clickbait Buzzed articles need to be reminded of it and it’s good. But using this movie as means to look back at the glory days of print journalism with misty eyes would be missing the biggest point being made.
More importantly it highlights the thick black line between the practices of a faith and the unforgivable actions of an hypocritical institution.
The power of cinema is one that should be used to convey a message. Spotlight does this with a powerful cast, constant suspense and a second to none screenplay delivering one of the most captivating movies of the decade. It serves as a demonstration of some of the world’s finest reporting and simultaneously as an informative tool to tell the story of the biggest scandal in the Church’s history.