When discussing Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, I believe we should first discuss the era the film depicts. It’s 2001 in Boston. Not everyone has a cell phone. No one is texting. Information is not just a click away. The AOL dial up internet is slow and frustrating, just like many forms of communication. It is a modern world, but still very reliant on physical paper and pen. In one frustrating scene Ruffalo’s character has to wait so long to see physical copies of public documents. People depend on television and newspapers. That makes the Boston Globe such a source of power, so much so that people reach out to them to get important stories out to the world. When The Boston Globe fails to bring a spotlight on a story, it is lost in the dark.
Spotlight is the true story of an investigative journalism team at The Boston Globe. The Spotlight team works apart from the daily grind of the newspaper and focuses on one big story. Under the suggestion of their new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), they start looking into a few cases of child abuse within the local Catholic churches. It is not a task taken on lightly, most of Boston is Catholic, or at least grew up in the church, including the entire Spotlight team.
Their investigation quickly begins to snowball. What they originally thought was only a few abusive priests turns into a shockingly high number. What is worse is that these priests do not see a proper punishment. Their cases are settled and they are simply moved to a different parish, where they find new victims. It’s a huge scandal and they discover that it goes all the way up to the Vatican.
Spotlight is nominated for six Academy Awards. They include best original screenplay, editing and best picture. Tom McCarthy picks up his first nomination for best director. Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams both earn supporting nominations for their roles in the film.
While watching Spotlight, I was reminded of many other films that it seems to take inspiration from. At some points it feels like an updated episode of All The President’s Men. Other moments between characters evoke feelings from Network and Broadcast News. And some shots reminded me of images in Citizen Kane. These are all wonderful films to aspire to and the fact that Spotlight has a voice, image and time period all its own makes it stand on its own.
What makes Spotlight a great movie is that the story finds a good balance between the investigation and the drama being stirred up by the investigation. Robby (Michael Keaton) and his team remain professional, but it is clear that what they are discovering shakes them to their core. One moment that stuck with me most was when Matt (Brian d’Arcy James) discovers that house just around the corner from his home serves as a center for recovering priests. It’s basically a nest full of child molesting priests right in his neighborhood. Then he sticks a picture of the house on his fridge with a message to his children to stay away from that house.
While the extent of the church’s scandal is appalling, one moment in the film really made my heart sink. It didn’t have to do with anything the church did, but what reporters didn’t do. At one point, it is clear that victims have been trying to reach out The Boston Globe for years. They were simply trying to let someone, hopefully the world, know what had happened to them. Unfortunately someone dropped the ball and a whole box worth of evidence just sat in the Globe’s basement gathering dust while more and more people became victims. All it needed was for someone to shine a little light.
“They say it’s just physical abuse but it’s more than that, this was spiritual abuse. You know why I went along with everything? Because priests, are supposed to be the good guys.”