In the mid-seventies, a single mother and her children are being quietly consulted at a Boston police station. They have come to the police in search of justice, because the male child in the family has broken his silence. He has been molested by a Catholic priest, a man who entered his life a couple days after his father exited. In an adjacent conference room, rather than a holding cell, that same priest is waiting. He isn’t waiting for his lawyer, or compelling evidence, or trial dates, or any criminal proceedings of any kind. He is waiting for senior members of his Diocese. They arrive, and he climbs into the back seat of a dark sedan, and they drive away like members of the mafia.
In 2001, The Boston Globe has a new Editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). The staff is concerned he might be interested in cutting salaries or positions, or even departments, but The Globe’s crew is equally disconcerted with what truly interests him: delving into molestation charges against the Boston Arch Diocese. The story just so happens to be a perfect fit for the Spotlight team, a small group of investigative journalists who focus on local stories confidentially. The team, played by Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d’Arcy, and Michael Keaton (their Chief), uncover an earth-shattering conspiracy to cover-up ongoing pedophilia, not just locally, but all the way up to The Vatican.
The disturbing and completely true story is told here with surprising restraint and perfectly natural performances. The all-star cast takes to their appealing characters with admirable calm, a temperament which gently echoes throughout every aspect of this surprisingly level-headed film, given its shocking subject. The film is almost frustratingly un-cinematic, as it places the camera indifferently, as if trying not to be noticed. This style (or lack their of) serves the film well, as the walls of the screen seem to fade away, allowing the audience to be gracefully pulled into the world of the movie without distraction. It’s a fine choice. After all, this is our world we are watching.
Spotlight tells the year-long story of the investigation in staggering detail, and I can imagine many viewers will be taken aback by how entertaining a film depicting old-school newspaper reporting can be. This kind of deep-research reporting is a dying breed at papers these days, and considering how the modern world receives most of its news, the work here seems so unfamiliar, even set less than 15 years ago, it almost feels like a period piece.
It’s a challenge to really explain how this movie is so excellent. In a way, I supposed it’s somewhat refreshing to see a small film done so tastefully, and free of Hollywood grandeur. It draws big emotions from little moments, thanks to the fine acting in even bit roles (some lady plays McAdams’ grandma… all she did was make a face and I almost cried), and it makes for memorable viewing.
The film is a well-made reminder these horrors happened, and are almost certainly still happening. It was thanks to this report that, if nothing else, the silence was finally broken. You can draw a direct line from Spotlight, to the hip, loving pope who was assigned to rebrand Catholicism. His behavior, and most of his preaching, has been a welcomed change for the ancient institution. He has restored some faith, perhaps not in a creator, but at least in a global superpower that might actually be trying to do the right thing. Spotlight, as a film, might restore audiences faith in the power of free speech and quality journalism, but what it does most importantly, is remind us The Church, even with Pope Lovey-Dovey, has the kind of power to hide anything, if it so chooses.