It’s tough to be a fair journalist when a higher power carries great influence over the what and how of honest reporting. In Tom McCarthy’s Best Picture Oscar winner, Spotlight, it’s not so much the crimes of child molestation by the hands of priests from the Boston Archdiocese that are so important. Rather, it is how the facts are suppressed and the pressure to contain the truth are so apparent. Maybe it finally took the will of a new editor, a Jewish editor from New York, named Marty Baron (Liev Schrieber), at the esteemed Boston Globe newspaper to get the special section crew known as Spotlight to work on how case after case of reported child molestation incidents were allowed to occur for decades under the eye of the highest powers in the church.
First, it’s important to note how easy it is for a priest to seduce a young boy. He welcomes the boy for special duties within the church. Then the priest and child may share a dirty joke together. Just their little secret. After that, touching occurs which leads to unimaginable and irreversible damage. Yet, the grown man once considered that special attention he received as a direct link to God himself. McCarthy deliberately repeats that viewpoint from more than one victim in the film; it was as if God had selected them for special attention and God was especially speaking to them. None of this could be more patterned.
Marty Baron counts on his team to not only collect the mounting number of cases. He tells them to uncover an even worse truth and that is the systemic response the church upheld where when a new case comes to light, a deal is worked with a pawn for an attorney to give settlement hush money while the priest in question will take sick leave or simply be reassigned to another church location free to do God’s will while also committing his own willing nature.
The Spotlight team consists of Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams as well as Michael Keaton. All of their true to life characters were born and raised in Boston. Some under Catholic influence. So the conflict for them to do their jobs ethically and morally is challenging when faced with literally going up against the one institution that seems to own the city of Boston without it showing on paper necessarily. It also means coming to disheartening terms with their own upbringing.
To convincingly depict the grasp the church has on the politicians and newspapers in the area, McCarthy shoots a lot of his talking scenes outdoors on public benches and sidewalks. Therefore, you get an almost claustrophobic shadow of how close the Catholic Church is to the city’s residents. If a scene is at a dinner party or cocktail hour, a man of the cloth is nearby. A sidewalk stroll between a victim and a reporter seems to tread carefully. You never know if that cathedral on the corner is listening. Spotlight is primarily a journalism film of the highest standard. The pursuit for the truth is ripe with the obstacles of slamming doors when trying to get a statement or dealing with the unfair reveal of no records that legally are meant to be public. There’s a race to get the whole truth before a competing media outlet grabs it and misconstrues it. As well, what happens when a bigger story suddenly takes precedence and this story must be put on hold. I mean how do you not drop everything to report on 9/11?
Spotlight is another important film as it does not compromise in its true to life storytelling. It’s unfathomable to believe that men of God could use their positions to take advantage of the innocence of children and then refuse to accept responsibility for it. Even worse is the egregious actions taken to modify the authority of local law enforcement and judicial objectivity that should be there to protect the rights of these victims.
Todd McCarthy’s piece is excellent with a cast in top form. It would have to be as the screenplay is peppered with conversation after conversation. This is a newspaper film. So therefore it’s a talky piece. You get passionate monologues from Ruffalo who does not hold back his anger and disgust at what he uncovers with an acerbic but crusading attorney played beautifully by Stanley Tucci. This attorney has lost every battle he’s had with the church but he does not give up on his client victims either. He’s their only protector in an arena of powerful criminals who hide behind scripture.
You also have a real go-getter reporter in Rachel McAdams. McCarthy repeatedly shoots her from behind walking the streets of Boston with a pad and pen as she meets a victim or simply knocks on neighboring doors for some facts. Her challenge is seeking the truth while her grandmother holds an undying faith in religion of Catholicism by visiting the church at least three times a week. A crushing, albeit brief, scene occurs near the end of the film when the reporter’s grandmother reads her final story in the Spotlight section.
Michael Keaton is the Irish Bostonian rooted in tradition. He knows all the important people in the city. He knows Cardinal Law who runs the church and he holds on to his journalistic code of fact collecting for as long as he can muster.
The truth and web of lies and deceit could never really shock me in Spotlight. I’ve heard it all before. Instead, it’s the knowing acts of concealing horrifying sin. Ironically, those actions are committed by those that listen to the confessions of its sinful disciples. As I’m of an age where I question the validity and need for religion in our upbringing, I can’t help but wonder how these victims would have turned out had religion never became a factor in their lives. These children, now men, went on to commit suicide, become chemical dependent, and occasionally became child molesters themselves. It’s easy to argue that these conditions were never part of their chemical make up. It’s also easy to argue that the Catholic Church carelessly determined the destinies of these men without any regard for being accountable of the damaging results. Spotlight confidentially reaffirms both of these arguments.