Spotlight tells the story of four investigative journalists working for the Boston Globe who uncover the extent of pedophilia in the Catholic Church and seek to expose it to the world.
Spotlight is a movie which concerns itself with why something has happened and how we let it happen. Like its Academy Award rival The Big Short (read our review for that here), it takes on an incredulous cover-up with plenty of cynicism and scrutiny, burrowing into the nitty gritty of these terrible circumstances and exposing their seedy underbelly. But while that film’s events were brought about by greed and stupidity, Spotlight tackles a much more insidious and dirty agenda.
The horrendous crimes permeating the Catholic Church have been the subject of many a moral and ethical conversation since they were exposed, but few people are aware of the facts and figures. As the film tells you, an estimated 6% of all priests are sexual predators. It’s a figure that makes your skin crawl and eats away at your belief in the good in people, but when it’s fully explored here, the enormity of its implication becomes sickening to the point of despair.
That’s not to say this movie takes a stab at religion – quite the opposite – but it does expose the corruption seeping throughout the organised Church, and looks at the sheer audacity of its far reaching power and influence. It’s not an enviable task for a film to take on, but one Spotlight manages with serious guts.
That is largely due to the incisiveness of the script. Director Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer do a fantastic job at wrangling a screenplay so dense in detail and making it accessible, while avoiding all the typical Hollywood clichés and cheesy cinema tropes to which you’ve become accustomed throughout the annual awards season.
Of course it helps there’s an exceptional ensemble cast to fully commit and sell the devastating narrative. Michael Keaton continues his career resurgence as Spotlight editor Walter “Robby” Robinson, a journalist who’s been around the block and not likely to take any shit. He oversees reporters Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and researcher Matt Carroll (Brain d’Arcy James). All four are exemplary in their duty to relay one of the most significant news stories this century. Nobody has any bouts of grandiose self-righteousness or moral soliloquizing (except from one tiny outburst), instead they put aside any ego or A-list credentials and simply act like real people – real people who’ve uncovered an earth-shattering horror.
And that is where the true strength of Spotlight lies. There’s no flashy six hour tracking shots or booming score – just a story and a group of individuals who knew it had to be told. McCarthy rightly forgoes any temptation to take the tired route of slapping you in the face with exposition or obvious moral inclinations. He doesn’t treat the viewer as an idiot. We all know the severity and deplorable nature of these heinous crimes, but his job is to simply lay it all out while the ace script takes care of the rest.
In doing so, he allows the emotional punch to land solely in the lap of the survivors. It is through these broken characters that we experience first-hand exactly what their priests have been up to. To simply know somebody was molested isn’t quite enough – as Rachel McAdam’s so expertly puts it – you need to understand the finer details of these grave happenings and the extensive underhanded cover-up that followed. Spotlight makes sure you do. It’s not easy listening to these guys recount their ordeals – in fact you’ll be sick to your stomach – but it’s all you’ll need to get to grips with the enormity and depravity of that twisted 6%.
In the end, Spotlight will leave you sickened and battered. You’ll sit and curse the bastards who’d been allowed to get away with this and you’ll wonder how it happened for so long. There’s blame on both sides of course – which the film deals with accordingly – but Spotlight is a film that continually probes into the darkest corners of our society, plumbs their depths and shakes your faith in the system.
Movie rating: (4 / 5)