This excellent film dramatises the Boston Globe’s exposure of the child abuse practices of hundreds of Roman Catholic priests in and around the city of Boston and the cover-up by the church. More than that, it points the finger at the shoulder-shrugging complicity of other areas of the establishment like the law courts, police and the press, including the paper’s own earlier self, burying previous isolated stories on the subject deep in the paper without thought of following up the bigger story. Indeed it takes the arrival of a new editor at the paper to revive the story which he does by setting the four-strong investigate team known as Spotlight loose on the case, where they soon find substance to the rumours and fight to bring it to light.
The subject matter is of course bound to invite viewer sympathy but the film doesn’t simply prey on that. Reminiscent of the likes of “All The President’s Men” and classic TV series like “Lou Grant”, it works by taking us inside the workings of the paper, avoiding gratuitous dramatic showdowns with either individual priests or even the misguided Cardinal, the climax to the sordid affair is simply the story finally hitting the streets on the paper’s front page. There’s no big self- congratulatory triumphant scene at the scene, merely a shockingly long list of other instances the world over of the church covering over the traces of pedophile priests abusing their positions of trust.
Spotlight isn’t afraid to tackle a serious and touchy subject matter and it does so with careful precision and thought. What makes the film relatable is that is never leaves the current situation of the neighbourhood. We see the story through the eyes of the journalists and the streets of that neighbourhood. We don’t get these grand aerial shots of the city of Boston, because we are confined to the horrors that live on those neighbourhood streets. Spotlight isn’t a showy film, save for one scene; it’s mostly static shots of people talking. Yet I was glued to the screen.
The acting is high quality, with the revitalised Michael Keaton as the sage leader of the team, keen to bring down not just the Cardinal but the whole cover-up system which protected the offending priests by signing them out of commission with anodyne phrases like “on sick leave” for example. He’s driven by his own incidental complicity in not digging deeper into the story when it first aired years before but it’s he who drives out the vital corroboration which enables it to finally get out there. Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams are also very good as the Rossi and Billie of the team, teasing the story out of the worn-out and cowed solicitor who first tried to put forward the victims’ stories, again well played by Stanley Tucci and generally putting in the hard yards behind the story to get it into print.
There are some emotional moments scattered throughout, specifically one involving victims recounting the abuse. Spotlight is a magnificently crafted film that soars due to the cast and the horrific nature of the content. Seeing the names of the cities at the end of the film left me in shock as to how close some of them are to me. One of the best of the year.
Spotlight gets a 8.4/10.