Directed by Tom McCarthy, Spotlight tells the true story of a team of reporters from The Boston Globe who in 2001 brought to light the cover-up of child sexual abuse occurring within the Catholic Church. Beginning with the allegations against one priest, John Geoghan, the team’s investigation leads them to a growing number of survivors and to the systematic corruption happening at all levels of the Church. It is a very heavy and emotional story that is handled carefully and effectively.
This type of story has become so prevalent in our culture that we now have a [terrible and unfair] stereotype of priests being likely to engage in paedophilia. The truth is that most priests aren’t paedophiles but that doesn’t mean we can overlook the percentage, not matter how small, of those who are. The movie does an excellent job of making that clear. The Spotlight team wasn’t after the Church itself, it was after the corrupt priests and the people who helped them get away with the abuse. The story was supposed to incite a change in the way the Church handled what happened to these particular priests.
It was fascinating to see how the team worked over months and months to make sure they had strong and reliable sources and evidence before they got any word out. It showed the level of journalistic integrity required of a person to work for Spotlight. But more than that, it really showed how deeply these people cared about getting the truth out. Mark Ruffalo was fantastic as Michael Rezendes, a man so good at his job that it cost him his family. Everything that Spotlight investigated was top priority to him and the fact we only hear passing remarks about his separation from his wife really highlights where his priorities lied. Ruffalo’s almost hyperactive performance reflected the urgency and passion in his work. While the rest of the main cast–Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber–were great in their own right, it was the minor characters (the survivors) who really brought so much emotion to the movie.
Michael Cyril Creighton played Joe Crowley, a gay man who had been abused by his priest as a child. The way he detailed his story was real and heartbreaking. The pain of it all had not subsided over the years and as much as he tried to maintain his composure, the memories and self-hate that came with them weighed too heavily on him. Neal Huff as Phil Saviano was a particularly outstanding performance. You could see just how fed up he was with the lack of action the law and the media had given the story. He wanted justice and he worked hard to be heard. It was Saviano who poignantly described the extent this abuse had on the survivors. He stated it wasn’t just physical abuse, it was spiritual abuse as well. These priests had not only taken advantage of a child’s vulnerability, they had robbed them of their faith and trust. Not every person who was abused found the courage to continue living so that’s why the movie uses the term survivor rather than victim. You never lose sight of these ideas throughout the movie and this is what gives it so much power. Even though the incidents had happened 30 years prior, the stakes are still high.
For a movie that’s mostly just people speaking to each other, it’s surprisingly fast paced. The investigation needed to be done thoroughly and quickly. There was always the fear that another (less influential) newspaper would get a hold of this story and compromise their work. If any other newspaper had published the story without concrete evidence, the Church could have easily responded and squashed it before it got any further. You could feel the pressure these reporters were under because of this.
Spotlight is quite confronting in its content and highlights the struggle between faith and justice. A couple of storylines petered out and weren’t revisited but the development of the main story was so well done that it made up for any lapses. The acting was solid across the board and made us care about the people involved. Perhaps the movie would have had a lot more impact had it been released a few years ago, but this type of corruption and abuse is still happening and not just within the Church, so it is still relevant. Spotlight is not an easy movie to watch but it is worth watching.