“Spotlight” belongs to the rare breed of film that truly demands a viewing. One of the most powerful movies in decades, it’s this generation’s “All the President’s Men.” The 2015 biographical drama follows the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team, an investigative journalism department dedicated to long-term research. The based-on-a-true stories film probes the Spotlight team’s investigation into, and subsequent uncovering of the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal which debuted in 2003, earning the Globe a Pulitzer Prize. Superbly acted, exquisitely written, and emotionally powerful, “Spotlight” depicts one of the most unsettling, albeit important, stories of the century.
Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) joins the Boston Globe in 2001 as the new editor. Baron makes the acquaintance of Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) managing editor of the Spotlight investigative journalism team. A Globe article on lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) asserts that Cardinal Bernard Law (Len Cariou), Archbishop of Boston, was aware of a sexual abuse case involving priest John Geoghan. This column motivates Baron to assign the Spotlight team a new case, examining further these allegations.
As Spotlight journalists Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy) begin scrutinizing the evidence, their inquiry reaches far beyond Geoghan. Spotlight deciphers a pattern of child abuse by priests. Additional confirmation comes from Phil Saviano (Neal Huff), leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Through Saviano’s testimony, and corroborating evidence from fellow SNAP members, the range of their investigation broadens. The team learns of a Church-sanctioned pedophile rehabilitation program after speaking to former priest Richard Snipe (Richard Jenkins). The farther Spotlight digs, the more patterns and supporting data emerge.
The film hones in on the investigation of the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal, concentrating primarily on the Boston Globe’s lengthy journalistic examination of evidence. Thus, the characters are almost secondary to the narrative. The onus, and rightly so, is more on the victims, and how Spotlight uncovered the conspiracy. Interviews with victims, clergy members, and attorneys are each disconcerting in their own right. Victim testimonies aren’t terribly descriptive, but lend enough details which, combined with phenomenal, moving performances, are deeply disturbing. Clergy members such as Cardinal Law, appear all-too confident, unnerving in light of their guilt in covering up the abuse.
Where “Spotlight” shines is in depicting the Globe’s breaking story in the context of investigative journalism, as well as illustrating the impact on the Boston community. In a predominantly-Catholic community, the Globe faces opposition from not only the Catholic Church, but local politicians. The impact both during and after the story can be seen in reactions by the general public and by the individual members of the Spotlight team. Pfieffer who attends mass on a regular basis with her grandmother clearly struggles with her faith during the investigation. Rezendes exhibits the greatest outward signs of conflict with a near-breakdown. Ruffalo’s emotional performance is one of the decade’s most moving. While the focus of “Spotlight” may be more on the story and less on character development, the effects of the gut-wrenching case are demonstrated at the individual and community levels.
The Academy Award-winning “Spotlight” is a riveting, emotional journey. It’s the kind of tour de force which leaves the audience in a stunned silence despite the foreknowledge of the outcome, a result of taut acting and list of cities internationally affected by the abuse. As Garabedian accurately states, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” The revelation that an entity as influential as the Catholic Church used its power to cover up such atrocities upended many worldviews, and remains one of the 20th centuries most substantial, and haunting, historical events. “Spotlight” thus is an absolute must-see, both for its historical significance, and robust acting performances.