After more or less ignoring the story for five years, and following a report by the local underfunded weekly ‘Phoenix,’ the Boston Globe’s premiere investigative team, Spotlight, gets the go-ahead to look into reports of a Catholic priest raping a few boys. At the end of their efforts, an international conspiracy to hide sickening abuse throughout the Catholic Church shocks the world and wins the Globe the Pulitzer Prize.
Spotlight is being called one of the greatest all-time newspaper movies and it is getting the highest marks by reviewers. It is indeed a very engaging film supported by a remarkable cast and a tight script, written and directed by Tom McCarthy.
The four Spotlight team members have all been brought up as Catholics and their leader Robby Robinson (played by Michael Keaton with heavy restraint) is deeply embedded in the old boys’ network of Irish Catholics who dominate Boston’s politics. Through his world, we learn how powerful the Church is in Boston’s power structure. We also watch how he both challenges and uses his connections to get at the truth.
The other team members suspend their own private lives to dig. Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) interviews adult rape victims with tough sympathy. The portrayals of the victims are extraordinarily moving as is that of the one priest who wants to talk, a man so deluded and limited that he sincerely casts his crimes as a gift of pleasure to the kids.
Mike Rezendes (played with frantic intensity by Mark Ruffalo) follows the paper trail past a flurry of obstacles, building up emotional distress every step of the way as he uncovers the length and depth of the crimes and of the Church’s cover-up, as well as the collaboration by many of the city’s who’s who.
Because the new Globe editor-in-chief Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) is Jewish, the Catholic collaborators try to paint the investigation as part of his personal outsider “agenda,” but Robby isn’t buying that, even when it means putting lifelong friendships in jeopardy. He isn’t the only one whose personal life is affected by the story. Matt Carroll (played by Brian d'Arcy James) discovers that one of the houses where accused priests are stowed is a block from his home, and he is torn between the need for total secrecy during the investigation and his desire to warn the children of the neighborhood.
In the end, their story, and the subsequent 600 Globe stories that followed about the Church’s duplicity and abusive culture changed the world. To add some context that wasn’t in the film (and didn’t need to be), revelations of their research exposed only one type of rot in an organization that has exploited poor people, aided in the colonization of third world countries, put women in an impossible situation by calling both birth control and abortion sins, invested Church resources in obstructing queer rights, and so much more.
McCarthy has created a riveting film out of a staggering quest for truth, and in the process has reminded us of how dire the decline of journalism is for the health of the country. The elimination of so many staff writers on newspapers coupled with the erosion of payment for freelance work means that few teams have the resources to do this kind of crucial job.
I will say that I was painfully aware that there was only one active role for a woman in the entire film and none for Black people, revealing most of all the level of political and social dominance by white men in Boston.
Don’t miss this film.