In 2002, the Boston Globe released a series of investigative articles covering the widespread pedophilia and subsequent cover-ups within the Catholic archdiocese of Boston. The investigation led to a Pulitzer Prize for the Globe and the conviction and sentencing to prison of several priests in the Boston area.
Now that you have a background, you should know something about the movie: it’s excellent. Spotlight, named for the investigative unit of the Globe (the oldest of its kind in the U.S.), is an affecting, impressively directed and acted drama that cares more about the possibly unsexy “how we got here.” The job of a journalist can be a tedious one. These stories don’t come together overnight. It takes weeks, months, sometimes years of hard work to tell the right story. Spotlight plays as something of importance, but also as a sort of love-letter to investigative journalism.
One of the year’s best films, surely a front-runner for Best Picture, Spotlight embraces the power of the press for good; it pits two of Boston’s most known institutions, the Catholic church, and the Boston Globe against each other. As stated in the movie, 53% of the Globes readers are Catholic. Boston is a town made up of many Irish-Catholics. How will they react to such a story? There is also an ethical line to be drawn in regards to the feelings and privacy of those abused. In one case, a father of three tells that not even his wife knows of his childhood of abuse.
The film itself is not a takedown of the Catholic church. Writer/director Tom McCarthy allows the facts to speak for themselves as well as giving the audience the opportunity to make decisions based on those facts. Instead of showing us the abuse, he allows the actors portraying the abused convey the emotions. It’s often true in horror films that the threat of the violence is more scary than the actual violence. Same rule applies. There’s a lot to be said for subtlety and restraint, something McCarthy proves himself completely capable of here. It made him the perfect director for such a film.
The superb cast of writers and editors (played wonderfully by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, and John Slattery) put together the pieces like a jigsaw puzzle just waiting for its conclusion. Comparisons in genre to All The President’s Men and Citizen Kane—the standard bearers for newspaper films—are inevitable.
Spotlight celebrates the standard of integrity each journalist should hold themselves to. In the world of Twitter (shamelessly plugged without pay by me at the jump) where attention spans are at a low, and clickbait is at a premium, the care and effort that went into the piece leaves me with a sense of gratitude. It feels true to form that in the end, the job goes on. As one conflict simmers, another one brews. Sadly, there will always be a scandal to be uncovered. We should be hopeful, whether it’s print, online, or otherwise that it’s investigated and reported as thoroughly and honestly as it is here.
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Robert is a current student here at CUNY SPS, pursuing a degree in Communication and Media. He is interested in platforms of media, especially those related to digital media; and a fan of serious film as well as this current golden age of television.