In 2001 the problem of pedophile priests was something that cropped up occasionally but it was assumed that it was rare. Mostly this was because people didn’t want to believe it. But in cities like Boston there was also a certain amount of collusion among the police, the judiciary and even the press to keep these incidents under wraps. And of course the Catholic Church had a large interest in suppressing it. They also had the power to bury the issue, being a large well-entrenched institution in the city. When an incident occurred, the church would move the priest into another parish and perhaps into a rehabilitation facility, most of which were placed in neighborhoods around the city. They could also convince the victims and their families to keep quiet, since most of them were working class people who regarded the church as a powerful authority. A couple of the victims interviewed in this film said that they felt they had to cooperate in both the original crime and the cover-up because getting attention from these priests to them was like getting attention from God.
Consequently, nobody had any idea of how big the problem was.
Spotlight is based on a true story. The title comes from The Boston Globe’s, investigative journalism section. It is a team of reporters, led by Walter “Robby” Robinson, played by Michael Keaton, who look into various local scandals and corruption around the city. When new editor Marty Baron, played by Liev Schreiber, takes over he directs Robby to have his team look into the pedophile scandal. What they uncover resonates throughout the city, the country and even the world.
This is an odd film in that there’s really no lead role. It is a true ensemble cast. Which is unusual because an actor like Michael Keaton, who won the best Actor Oscar just last year could easily have gone to the producers and demanded that his part be expanded into a starring role. The same goes for Mark Ruffalo who plays Mike Rezendes, one of the reporters. To their credit they didn’t do that. Uncovering all this information took a great amount of teamwork and this terrific cast portrayed that nicely.
The script by Tom McCarthy, who also directed, and Josh Singer is amazing. It’s all dialog of course but it’s not flashily perfect and articulate like Aaron Sorkin’s. And it is suspenseful. The film takes us through the process of building this story. The issues they faced were complicated. But the importance of getting sources on the record, of obtaining evidence legally, and verification of that evidence is explained clearly and without any awkward exposition. The plot to the film is remarkably linear with all the scenes leading up to a great climax.
And all throughout the film they have a sense of the importance of this story. At one point they have enough to expose a handful of priests and resulting cover-ups. There is dissention but they eventually decide to hold back because they know there are a lot more and that the reason for the cover-ups is the Church’s leadership. That’s what needs to change.
The acting is first rate as you would expect with this cast. Keaton does deliver some of his favorite mannerisms at times—that forward shrug—but for the most part he immerses himself in the role which is not quirky or eccentric at all. Ruffalo is also terrific as a driven “let’s go get the bastards” reporter. He’s always been an immersive actor and in this one you can see the depths he’s given this character.
Predators of children have been getting away with their crimes for decades, centuries, possibly even millennia because most people find the subject distasteful. In this particular case the victims were almost all working class children, about as powerless as you can get. And I think many people thought that this was the way the world was and there was nothing that could be done about it. Fortunately the Spotlight reporters didn’t feel that way.


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