It is 2002 and this story is a game changer. It is when the Catholic Church was drawn into the world spotlight for all the wrong reasons. The film tells the astonishing true story of the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Spotlight” team of investigative journalists. They were the ones who exposed the church’s systematic cover-up of widespread paedophilia perpetrated by more than 70 local priests.
In the summer of 2001 the Globe appoints a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) who arrives from Miami. He immediately directs the Spotlight team to follow up on a column about a local priest accused of having sexually abused dozens of young parishioners over the course of 30 years. Spotlight editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) and his team – consisting of two reporters Mike Rezendes and Sacha Pfieffer (Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams respectively) and a researcher Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) – begin delving, fully aware they are taking on the most powerful institution in the city. They confer with victims’ attorney Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), interview adults who were molested as children and pursue the release of sealed court records. It quickly becomes clear that the Church’s systematic protection of predatory priests is far more widespread than any of them ever imagined. Despite staunch resistance from Church officials, including Boston’s Cardinal, the Globe publishes its blockbuster exposé in January 2002, leading the way for similar revelations in more than 200 other cities around the world. Spotlight’s efforts would earn them the Pulitzer Prize in 2003.
Although isolated cases of sex abuse by Catholic priests had been reported before their investigation, the team’s in-depth, scrupulously fact-checked exposé revealed the scope of clergy-perpetrated crimes. Furthermore, it went to the heart of the Church’s involvement in protecting their clergy from the criminal justice system.
Spotlight is a slow burn of a film. Its start is all but pedestrian, but it builds and builds to such an extent that we – the audience – are riveted. The naiveté and incredulity of just what they are uncovering is brilliantly portrayed by the ensemble cast, not to overlook the unmistakable stamp of director and co-writer Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor).
The performances are electrifying, some of the finest you are likely to see and I am not gilding the lily. The passion, the disdain for what they are uncovering, is in every frame. And it all starts with Schreiber’s deliberately understated, matter of fact, calm intelligence as Baron. Add to that the measured drive of Keaton as Robinson, the discipline of McAdams as Pfieffer, the heart-on-sleeve persona of Ruffalo’s Rezendes and the tenaciousness of Brian d’Arcy James as Carroll. Tucci, too, is unmistakable as the lawyer (turned reluctant informer) who is like a wind up clock, always frenetically busy fighting the good fight in the face of overwhelming odds.
The essence of the tale doesn’t fall far from the tree. Just stop for a moment and think about the enquiries currently underway into the atrocities allegedly committed by the Church and other organisations that have abused children and then covered these up. Spotlight is a brilliantly drawn out story of the Boston Globe’s sex-abuse investigation that needs to be seen.
Rated M, it scores a 9 out of 10.
Director: Tom McCarthy
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci
Release Date: 28 January 2016
Rating: M – Mature themes and coarse language
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television