Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Tom McCarthy
Stars: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, Live Schreiber, John Slattery, Billy Crudup, Stanley Tucci, Paul Guilfoyle, Len Cariou, Jamey Sheridan, Neal Huff.
All the bishops men?
A powerful drama, Spotlight is based on the true story of the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize winning series of articles from 2002 exposing the sytematic molestation of young children by Catholic priests and the cover-up orchestrated by the Catholic Church. The revelations were particularly shocking in this strong Irish-Catholic city, but the reverberations of the story were felt around the world. And the issue is still frighteningly relevant today. And during the end credits there is a list of other cities and countries where similar abuses within the Catholic church have been reported and brought to light.
The Boston Globe‘s famed team of investigative reporters under editor Walter Robbie Robinson (played by Michael Keaton) were used to picking their own stories and working to their own deadline. But that changed when new managing editor Martin Baron (Liev Schreiber, from Ray Donovan, and currently also seen in The 5th Wave, etc) arrives from Florida to take over the running of the paper. An outsider he is quick to recognise the systematic corruption within the Catholic Church, and immediately appoints the team to focus on reports that a Catholic priest has been accused of having sexually molested youngsters.
At first the team think they may be looking at up to a dozen priests, but as they probe deeper the number continues to rise and they discover that the sex abuse cases have been covered up for decades. The team work with lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), who is working as an advoctae for many of the victims in a protracted law suit against the Catholic Church. However their investigation is stalled as they attempt to unlock sealed court records that protect the identities of many more potential victims.
Of course the investigation takes its toll on the journalists who were all raised in this staunchly Catholic city and they have to deal with questions of faith and belief as they probe deeper into the Catholic Church and uncover dark and uncomfortable truths. In taking on such a powerful institution, Robinson butts heads with not only the powerful bishop of Boston but a number of powerful supporters and prominent Catholics who try to convince him to tread softly and carefully.
Spotlight tackles a sensitive and difficult subject and director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, etc) handles the material in intelligent fashion. This well written, uncompromising and meticulously crafted film about investigative journalists at work is a far cry from his previous film, the dire Adam Sandler comedy The Cobbler. There is a touch of the classic All The President’s Men about this procedural as we watch the dogged and determined journalists painstakingly follow leads, question victims and other people affected by the abuses, and discuss the progress and direction of their investigation in their office. Some of the scenes of journalists sifting through documents could have been quite dull, but McCarthy manages to suffuse them with a palpable sense of tension.
The film also looks at the flawed personalities and egoes and the politics of a newsroom. McCarthy has assembled a solid ensemble cast to play the journalists and they deliver strong, emotionally resonant performances. Particularly good is Keaton, returning to the newsroom for the first time since Ron Howard’s 1994 drama The Paper and delivers a nicely nuanced performance. He continues that good form he displayed in the Oscar winning Birdman as he portrays Robinson as a man haunted by past mistakes and looking for redemption.
Mark Ruffalo turns in one of his best performances as reporter Mike Rezendez, a lapsed Catholic who wears his heart on his sleeve and is deeply and personally affected by the story and its ramifications. Schreiber delivers a layered performance as Baron, who initially seems to be out to make a name for himself in his new home but who comes to understand the importance of the story. And Rachel McAdams is also good as Sacha Pfeiffer, the only female journalist on the team, who is also a lapsed Catholic, but every bit as dogged in her pursuit of the uncomfortable truth. Rounding out the team is Broadway and television actor Brian d’Arcy James, who is also very good as researcher Matt Carroll.
Billy Crudup makes the most of his small role as Macleish, a slimy lawyer who is negotiating settlements with the Catholic Church to keep the abuses secret and out of the courts. CSI’s Paul Guilfoyle oozes restrained quite menace as Conley, a powerful figure associated with the Church who delivers veiled warnings to Robinson.
There have been several fictional films and powerful documentaries exploring the issue of sexual abuse by Catholic priests and the Church’s policy of moving paedophile priests from parish to parish, including Amy Berg’s provocative and enlightening Deliver Us From Evil and Alex Gibney’s Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House Of God, so some of the material presented here will be familiar. What makes it so compelling is the way in which McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer (who has written for tv series like The West Wing, etc) have presented the controversial material almost in the guise of a compelling thriller.