Co-written by Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, and directed by the later, Spotlight retells the true story of how the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team uncovers the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese.
Spotlight is an investigative team that spends a long time on digging into whatever story the globe feels warrants deep investigation. The team is headed up by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), a reporter who’s so good at leaning on people for information that he’s almost as notorious as he is famous. The other members are the small group are Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). Robby seems to be reporting to editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery), but the events leading to the big story start in motion when the Globe gets a new editor named Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). Baron wants to investigate a lawyer’s claim that a local church knew about one of their priests molesting multiple children (somewhere around the numbers of 60-80 kids). Even though the Spotlight Team wants to look into a story involving the Boston PD, Baron insists that this is the way to go.
Once the team actually starts to look into the case, they start to realize that some things are off about the entire situation. They find out that there’s a $20,000 cap on suing charitable organizations, plus a 3 year statute of limitations makes it hard to try these kinds of cases because the victims are hesitant to come forward immediately. The team also starts to see the pattern of priests being shuffled around. This leads them to find what they believe to be a systematic cover-up being driven by the church. The suspicion is that the church is working with lawyers in a specific way in order to keep the cases quiet. It turns out that the lawyers didn’t inherently know what they were doing, but they didn’t look too hard and where willing to go along with it because they were making money.
After consulting with a former priest turned researcher, they suspect that as many as 90 priests may be pedophiles that are hidden by the church. According to the researcher, the church had been warned that pedophilia could be a problem. The idea that the church was already accepting and hiding that people where breaking rules, created the ideal environment for this kind of thing. Their new editor wants them to go after the church as a whole, not just the priests. What they find is more only systemic, but part of the communities. As it’s stated in the movie, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one”. Unfortunately, just as the case is hitting critical mass, 911 happens and all the Globes resources are shifted toward covering that.
After some time passes, Spotlight needs a boost to get back into the story. They get it from Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), a lawyer who had been fighting against the church for years before the story was being investigated. Thanks to some creative legal maneuvering, he’s able to get sensitive docents unsealed, that show a cardinal covering for a priest. It takes a bit of leg work by Rezendes, but Spotlight is able to get their hands on that information. After Robby is able to get a lawyer to identify 70 of the priests that are known molesters the story is ready to run, but the lawyer points out that he tried to reveal this information years earlier and no one was interested. As they’re preparing to release the story, Robbie realizes that they were part of the news system that missed this story years ago when the lawyer sent then 30 names of priests and it was buried by the Globe. Ben assures them that they have done good work here and they release the story. The film ends with members of the team coming into the offices early when the story is released. When the story is released, they are promptly flooded with calls from victims of the church looking for help or to tell their own stories.
Because of the nature of the film, the content, and the timing of the film’s release, it’s hard for me to not compare this movie to The Big Short. Unfortunately, this movie had all the same drama of a horrifying real-life situation without the bombastic characters. However, this movie did have the advantage of being much easier to understand. The end result was a movie that did a good job of conveying the gravity of the subject matter it was covering, but just didn’t feel as entertaining or emotionally connected as the other. Just because I didn’t like it as much, doesn’t mean that it’s not just as good, if not a better film. Even though I can’t help it, I don’t like thinking of the movie that way because comparing Spotlight to the Big Short undersells the things that the former does do well.
With a cast like this one, the performances that were delivered in this movie are just as good as you’d expect. I thought Ruffalo and Keaton, and Tucci really stood out. I especially enjoyed the scenes between Ruffalo and Tucci’s hard to read character. I think those characters where the best at conveying the deeper conflicts in the movie. Not the issues with the church, but the fact that so many people had contributed in so many ways to covering up crimes against children.
Spotlight feels like a movie with a purpose that supersedes it’s desire to entertain. The point of the movie is to be powerful and, more importantly, to be a reminder. It’s a film that’s meant to help shine a light (I couldn’t make myself say “it shine’s a spotlight”) on a shameful moment in human history with the intention of not allowing people to forget that these kinds of crimes happen and need to be exposed and dealt with. It also helps to show the kind of damage that happens when things like this happen. So, while it may not be the most entertaining movie I’ve seen in a while, it’s definitely a movie that succeeds at accomplishing its goals. A great way to keep a story like this from being buried again is to put it into an award winning movie that can stand the test of time.
- An exceedingly strong cast that delivers great performances
- Does a great job at exposing the process of uncovering a disturbing story
- It's more of a dramatized retelling of a story and misses some moments when it could have connected with the audience in a few ways.