THE Boston Globe’s unearthing of child abuse within the Catholic Church is at the centre of Spotlight, Thomas McCarthy’s true-life journalism drama that earns much interest, even if the end result plays as just good.
In 2001, the Boston Globe unveils its new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). Aware of falling readership and the rising of the internet, Baron instructs Spotlight editor Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton) to follow up on a piece describing how a cardinal knew of a priest abusing children and remained silent about it.
Spotlight, an investigative team within the newspaper consisting of just Robinson, Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sasha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) soon uncover information that stretches from their initial research involving one priest to thirteen. Learning that the Church allowed settlements to be secretly carried out to ensure the silence of victims, their investigation continues to a point where they learn up to ninety Boston-based priests, 6% in total, were involved in sexual abuse of children.
By trying to secure a motion that will allow access to documents revealing there was indeed a cover-up by the cardinal, this sets up events that lead to publications which would win the Globe the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
McCarthy brings together a solid cast of actors playing journalists who all disappear into their roles so convincingly that it is like watching real journalists at work.
From a superb Keaton to the energetic Ruffalo, to John Slattery as their no-nonsense supervisor Ben Bradlee Jr and Schreiber as the softly-spoken editor, all perform with a depth that the entertainment value mainly lies within their performances.
Those outside of the newsroom also make for impressive viewing with Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup as lawyers with contrasting moral attitudes and Neal Huff and Michael Cyril Creighton as ‘survivors’ who recount their abuse to the journalists in question.
As the film progresses, one gets the impression that we as viewers know exactly where the film is heading. We know how the film is going to end and the result we expect is given. Of course, no biopic of this style is what it is going to be without detailing the obstacles that are faced by the team.
In an early scene, a survivor stubbornly asks Rezendes to find the people responsible for what happened to them. When another expresses to Pfeiffer concern as to whether they will achieve anything, we root for the victims much more but also with the journalists too. Stopping the film from being consistently better instead of just good is the fact that there is an element of predictability within the structure because as a film, it is not doing a huge amount in being the sort that makes us love cinema in the first place.
Films usually give a theory of how fine it will be based on how it starts. The opening sequence set in 1976 briefly depicts a District Attorney arriving at a Boston police station where a priest is being held.
Taking advantage of a lack of media awareness, it is shown that the priest is released without question. That explains the ideology of covering up crimes involving priests, but as we find out the culture of such activity as the film progresses, hence what the film is about, it doesn’t make a difference whether that scene is shown.
It therefore plays as too obvious and thereby the film would have benefited by remaining completely entirely set in the early 2000s.
Often, the film explains situations that represent a solid mixture of fine scriptwriting and fine acting, most notably when Spotlight explain their unexpected findings of potentially ninety priests being involved in abuse to a stunned Bradlee Jr.
Being set in 2001, not surprisingly, the events of 9/11 are briefly shown in a sequence which sees Spotlight’s investigation briefly paused so that all focus can be put on the terrorist attacks.
Scenes like that create an effect that show that the film, however brief, can play as more than just good and it is frustrating when a scene with that tone only lasts for bare minutes and the film instantly reverts back to being good again. It is a non-fatal flaw, but it is one that has affected so many recent American films, it makes one instantly wants to run back to the Europeans to learn what being very good at the least means.
In the end, Spotlight is far from a classic but for what is shown onscreen, thanks to a series of solid performances, there is no doubt that this film does interest and impress in a respectable manner.