Spotlight - Film Review
Directed by: Tom McCarthy
Cast includes: Billy Crudup, Brian d’Arcy James, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schrieber, John Slatterly, and Stanley Tucci
Release Date: 28 January
The timing for the release of Spotlight in Australia is extraordinarily apt with the Royal Commission investigating child abuse in institutions. The film is the a dramatisation of the moment in time when they systemic pedophilia taking place in the Catholic Church was publicly uncovered and reported in Boston in 2002 – and brought into the spotlight.
This is not how the movie gets its name though (or at least, not entirely). The issue was investigated by a special team working at the Boston Globe newspaper. This team wrote for a special interest section called ‘Spotlight’ and they routinely spent significant amounts of time (more than a year at times) undertaking very deep investigations into major news items. This was back in the day when newspapers actually reported beyond a 24 hour cycle and editors knew that good reporting sometimes takes time.
Boston is/was a Catholic City predominantly so it took the arrival of an out of town, Jewish editor (Schrieber) to see the significance and have the guts to press for the right story. It is suggested in the movie that the editor he was replacing had suddenly met with an accident after asking some uncomfortable questions of his own...
The ensemble cast is brilliant in this movie and one of the reasons it works and the story shines through is because everyone played their role rather than being an actor playing the role. I should mention this is not a film which reviles Catholicism as a religion and, in fact, nobody leaves the church although there are a lot of ‘lapsed’ Catholics in the investigative team.
The interesting commentary in the film is not about the pedophilia. What it focuses on is the extent of the problem (an estimated 6% of the priesthood worldwide), the cover up systemised by the Church, and there lack of action to protect the congregations. It also touches on the complicity of the adults in the congregations themselves to protect their Church.
For me Keaton and Schrieber are the ones who take this film beyond the ordinary. Both actors are known for big, powerful performances, but in this case their work is nuanced to perfection. Ruffalo is the only one who feels like he is overplaying a bit, but perhaps the film needed a hot head to demonstrate that most of the people who were outraged were just normal folk.
Every character has their own journey to belief and understanding of the truth and it is fascinating to watch awareness and horror creep into their minds and eyes. McCarthy is telling a story which could fall into a tedious reportage of reportage, but through this intelligent exploration of personal epiphanies he magnifies the horror of the situation without making it spectacle.
The movie is on the long side at just over 2 hours, but to be honest I didn’t notice. I was engrossed the whole way through.
As I mentioned earlier, we have our own investigation going on right now and the Catholic Church is still, remarkably, using the same tactics to avoid culpability. Luckily they have their own nation/state at the Vatican to protect those most at fault – which is probably why they have been able to perpetrate the atrocities for so long.
One of the important points the movie makes is that sometimes it takes an outsider to see what is happening. It is not that Schrieber’s character is Jewish which is important, it is that he comes from somewhere outside of Boston and is not a part of the culture which has developed – the not seeing that becomes ingrained in all social cultures over time.
2016 is shaping up to be a year of great and important story telling in film. The year began with Suffragette, now we have Spotlight, and Trumbo is coming up too. It is going to be an exciting year at the movies.