Synopsis – The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.
My Take – This film is based on the true story of how an American publication, the Boston Globe eventually broke the story of the widespread abuse of young children by Boston priests while the Catholic Church stood by and covered it up. After watching this film yesterday at the Dubai International Film Festival 2015, I felt heartbroken, disgusted and furious. It’s challenging to make a movie that is as well-made as this one, while also being as difficult to watch. We know the story, we even know how it snow-balled globally, but the raw emotions of disgust and sheer anger permeate much of our being as we watch it unfold on screen. Director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor) co-wrote the script with Josh Singer (The Fifth Estate) and it’s worthy of favorable comparison to other investigative newspaper films like The Insider (1999), Zodiac (2007), and even the All The President’s Men (1976). The film defines the misuse of faith, which can be either trust or belief. Faith can also be defined as religion and ideology. The story broke the faith that so many once held, and started a global (as evidenced by the closing credits) reckoning and awakening that was desperately needed. The film offers a line of dialogue, “It takes a village to raise a kid … or abuse one.” In other words, it took the often silent actions of so many to allow this despicably evil horror to continue. In a tribute to the newspaper profession, it took a small group of dedicated reporters to pull back a curtain that should never again be shut. Let’s have faith in that. The film does sound like a simple story, but its script is much deeper than that. The film has a heavy subject matter, and thanks to its dialogue, the subject matter becomes more engaging. This is because the story that the characters are trying t0o make big, becomes really disturbing and you, the viewer, will definitely not feel good, whilst watching this movie. The script also not only develops the characters, but shows the passion of trying to spread, as news. The story follows an investigative journalist team called “Spotlight”. It’s led by editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) and his three reporters: Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfieffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James).
They report to Ben Bradlee Jr (John Slattery), whose father was the editor of The Washington Post. Under a new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), the team begins to unfold a horrific pattern of child sexual abuse by the church that was muted and covered up by high priced lawyers and payoffs to victim’s families. As Walter probes further and further into the events (the setting is after the events the 9/11) the investigation reveals layers and layers of injustice of Catholic Priests that were aided by the highest powers of the church in an effort to keep the story muted. What is most fascinating about the movie is that it focuses on the investigative aspects – just how diligent the reporters were in putting the story together – and how fluid the process was … the story led them, not vice versa. There was no media agenda to “get” the church. Instead, the reporters experienced natural shock as each piece of the puzzle was discovered. One of their key sources was a priest-turned-psychologist (voiced by Richard Jenkins) who helped them put scope to the numbers. Another was Phil Saviano (Neal Huff), the leader of a victim’s group, who had tried before to provide documentation to the press. Saviano is the perfect example of how someone so passionate about a cause can be viewed with such skepticism right up to the point when they are proved correct. Three attorneys add perspective to the cover-up. Eric Macleish (Billy Crudup) made a career of settling cases (and silencing victims) for the church. Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) is the polar opposite – he fights vigorously to get the victims heard, while Jim Sullivan (Jamey Sheridan) is caught in the middle – settling cases for the church and struggling with his conscience. Other interesting characters include Paul Guilfoyle as Pete Conley, a smooth-talking power-broker for the church, and Len Cariou as Cardinal Law – the man at the top who eventually apologized and was rewarded with a high-ranking position at The Vatican. Where you must begin, with any praise for the film, is the audacious and fortifying script by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer. The two create cinematic magic in their articulation of words, characters, and narrative storytelling. Each person feels authentic. Each scene feels rich and equally important as the last. Director Tom McCarthy does a great job behind the camera, making the audience feel disturbed by the subject matter of the film. You also feel the determination and passion of these characters, thanks to the direction. I also love the cinematography for looking very realistic, up to the point where the locations, such as the office, looked real. The film is so well crafted and acted that it features more than a few “best scenes”. Sacha has a brief encounter with a former priest on his front door stoop.
The priest freely admits to molesting kids and his rationalization will certainly deliver chills to most any viewer. Being that the investigation lasted well into 2001, it’s quite informative to watch a news agency shift directions for the September 11 tragedy, and along with the nation, put all else on hold. Finally, there is a point in the movie where we as viewers have just about had our fill of extreme emotions – we either need to hit something or throw up – and reporter Rezendes comes through with exactly what is needed: an emotional outburst and release of exasperation rivaling anything previously seen on screen. It’s a wonderful moment for Ruffalo as an actor, and a peak moment for viewers. Ruffalo exhibits his best screen performance to date, and makes a stake in his claim for the Oscar this year. Ruffalo builds his ‘Mike’ from the feet up, giving him his own characteristics that I’m not sure McCarthy and Singer set out to do. His expressions in words, mannerisms, all encapsulate the magnitude of his work, including an explosive scene that brought tears to my eyes. Think back to Emma Stone‘s acclaimed work in “Birdman,” and the scene that made everyone notice. I wanted to simply applaud. Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams, are attune with their characters and destinations. Each bring strong sensibilities and sensitivity to their roles that desperately call for them. Hotly worked into the story is Liev Schreiber as a newly appointed Editor, that in the little screen time he’s given, makes a long-lasting impression. Stanley Tucci is also afforded the same opportunity, and gives one of the film’s best monologues. On the whole, ‘Spotlight‘ is a very clever movie, with an immensely important topic and near-perfect dialogues, crafted both by amazing actors and great screen writing. If you like seeing a cast keeping things grounded and realistic, and yet have moments of powerful drama and conflict that cuts at a lot of corners of society (especially, also, involving class as this is also a class issue involving low-income families having kids who were molested/raped), this is a film to see. It doesn’t exactly leave you feeling all that ‘good’, but it does celebrate what journalism can do in an non fussy, unsentimental way that is refreshing too. Plus the awards season may just have found its first forerunner. This year has been average at best without any standout films initiating awards conversation, Tom McCarthy‘s Spotlight rising above the heap to assert itself as one of 2015’s best.
Director – Tom McCarthy
Rated – R
Run Time – 128 minutes