Screen Pass: “Spotlight” triumphs in film on Catholic Church sex scandal

Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight is a steadily riveting showcase of the Boston Globe’s famous uncover- ing of child abuse in the Catholic Church in 2002. At the time, almost nobody was aware of—or simply refused to acknowledge—this rampant problem with Catholic priests until a small team of investigative journalists look into it. The film highlights their brilliant work, which resulted in the circulation of nearly 600 Globe articles on the alleged child sex-abuse cases that the Church attempted to sweep under the rug for so many years.

Spotlight begins with a conversation between investigation department head Walter “Robbie” Robinson (Michael Keaton) and newly appointed Globe editor Martin Baron (Liev Schreiber). Baron is convinced the Church is hiding something, and encourages Robinson to investigate a few sexual abuse scandals involving Catholic priests, that the Globe and a couple of other papers reported on twenty years ago with no follow-up. Robinson and the rest of his team, Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Matty Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), and Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), spend the next eight months pursuing this landmine of a project, gathering evidence from alleged survivors and the few others who are willing to help.

As we learn throughout the film, there are more survivors than anyone could have ever anticipated. “They say it’s just physical abuse but it’s more than that, this was spiritual abuse,” says one of the survivors in an interview with Rezendes. “You know why I went along with everything? Because priests are supposed to be the good guys.” However, the most infuriating part of this to survivors, as well as audience members is that the courts and the Church have done absolutely nothing to help the hundreds of people that reported their abuse.

In fact, they have done the opposite: bury the evidence so deep that even the court cannot access it. What begins as a deplorable story on the wrongdoings of a few Catholic priests, unfolds into a phenomenon that is connected to a part of the whole Catholic Church system. Spotlight beautifully depicts the painstaking journey that the team goes on to expose the magnitude of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, and reminds audiences that the problem that was made public 13 years ago still persists to this day.

Spotlight also tackles the moral dilemmas that investigative journalists must face at certain times. Rezendes must come to terms with the fact that he will probably never be able to revisit his faith again if he continues to participate in the investigation and prosecution of the Church. Meanwhile, Pfeiffer must choose to do this job know- ing that her grandmother—who she lives with—goes to Church three times a week. Although the journalists are clearly heroes in this story, they are not shown with- out their flaws. There are some unexpected plot twists that will cause you to rethink previous perceptions of certain characters.

The film also, intentionally or not, pays homage to the mundaneness that is inevitable of a grand endeavor like this one. Unlike other detective films that it has been compared to, Spotlight exposes the rather tedious reality of fighting for an extremely important cause. Pfeiffer, Caroll, Rezendes, and Robinson are constantly turning corners, testing their patience with every task that will potentially bring them closer to publishing this one (or so they think) article. They are told time and time again to drop the story. The New Yorker describes it as “a saga of expansion, paced with immense care, demonstrating how the reports of child abuse by Catholic clergy slowly broadened and unfurled.” So don’t expect to be on the edge of your seat—at least not for the entirety of the film’s two hours. But this is not to say that the film is boring, in fact, it is the quiet scenes that are the most blood-pumping.

All in all, this film eloquently displays the real, boring, and gritty sides of newspaper journalism without washing out any of the suspense that most moviegoers hope for. There is almost no trace of typical Hollywood drama in the film at all, as it focuses on the methodical process of reporting: finding adequate sources, convincing them to talk, fact checking all of the material, printing the story at the right moment, everything. Spotlight eloquently displays the real, boring, and gritty sides of newspaper journalism without washing out any of the suspense that most moviegoers hope for.

The dull visuals were the only noticeable flaw, which in my opinion doesn’t take away from the film. It is mostly set in a newspaper office and the residential streets of Boston, after all.

There are some other notable performances from Stanley Tucci, Michael Cyril Creighton, and Jimmy LeBlanc. Spotlight is showing at Railroad Square Cinema for $7. Expect to see it on this year’s list of Oscar frontrunners. It is a must-see.

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