spotlightfilmposterDirector: Tom McCarthy
Writers: Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy
Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 29 January 2016 (UK)
Runtime: 128 min

Spotlight is the story of how the investigative journalists of the Boston Globe (operating under the name of the title) brought to light the cover-up of child abuse by Catholic priests in the Archdiocese. It’s a controversial, gripping and heart-wrenching film.

The investigation gets underway only with the arrival at The Globe of a new managing editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). Unlike the others, Mr. Baron is neither a Boston local nor a Catholic. In fact he is Jewish and knows little of Boston. The script hints that only ‘outsiders’ lack the cultural shackles that prevented many in Boston from investigating the Catholic Church. Baron puts 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) on the case.

What follows is a pretty straightforward but fascinating account of the investigation. In this respect the film resembles All The President’s Men (1976). The investigation starts small looking into the case of John Geoghan, a retired priest then the subject of multiple civil lawsuits for historical sexual abuse. The reporters reach out to victims and research the movement of the abusive priests from Parish to Parish or being placed on ‘sick leave’. They try to get information from lawyers involved in out-of-court settlements, seek access to sealed court documents and get confirmation of facts from insiders. Shock sets in as the sheer scale of the abuse and cover-up is slowly revealed. Evidence of the role of Cardinal Bernard Law, Boston’s formidable archbishop, in the cover-up begins to emerge.

The lawyers depict a range of reactions to the abuse. Eric Macleish (Billy Crudup) made money settling cases (and silencing victims) for the church. Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), another ‘outsider’ fought, against the odds to get the victims heard, while Jim Sullivan (Jamey Sheridan) is confused – settling cases for the church and feeling guilty about it.

Spotlight makes you reflect on the nature of Faith. Faith challenged by the corruption of institutions whose function is to nurture it and by the evil actions of human agents. The Spotlight team don’t have a mission to ‘get’ the Catholic Church. Mike Rezendes is a lapsed Catholic who wants to believe again, Sacha Pfieffer takes her Mother to Church weekly and the Editor of the team Walter “Robby” Robinson is active in Catholic charitable and social circles. Their discoveries are disturbing for them as well as for practising Catholics. Spotlight deals with the harrowing subject sensitively and the overwhelming mood is one of sadness tinged with anger.

It encouraged me to learn that members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection Of Minors sat down recently to watch Spotlight on the eve of a three-day panel that was being held at the Vatican to address clerical sex abuse. Vatican also praised the film, calling it both “compelling” and “honest”. Light really is a goodt disinfectant.

The story hit the front page of The Boston Globe in January 2002. The paper won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for its investigative journalism.

By Patrick Harrington


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