BY ALITHNAYN ABDULKAREEM
Early in Spotlight, this question is asked repeatedly to the Boston Globe’s new editor Marty Baron (Live Schreiber): “You want to sue the Catholic Church?” The Globe’s editor and his staff diplomatically delay their responses with professional excuses till finally he sighs, “Yes”.
Spotlight, the Academy Award Best Picture winner, handles heavy themes but paces its development in a way that never feels overpowering to the viewer, and yet refuses to reduce the seriousness. One could almost say it is a movie made with journalistic credibility, a level amount of professional dissociation, and empathetic humanity. The combination makes for one of the year’s best movies, and an incredibly easy watch.
The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team is a section of the newspaper popular for its investigative stories. And the viewer learns early how seriously the team take their jobs, research and inquiry taking months or up to a year. The hard work costs members of the team personal relationships.
So it is sad and funny then when a team professionally designated to connect the dots have somehow ignored the pieces of a career defining story for years. Even more saddening and ridiculous is how everyone seems to know the story. Everyone but the journalists themselves.
The story has two grievous sides: for years, priests have been sexually abusing minors in the church and the Catholic Church has been sweeping these accusations under the rug, compensating some families financially and transferring some of the priests to other parishes or putting them on leave. One of the abused members recounting his experiences tells the Globe the priests are prone to selecting boys with weak family backgrounds. “A priest chooses you for a task and you feel special,” he says, “so when he suggests that you jerk him off you don’t think too much about it. How can you say no to God?”
Spotlight is remarkable in how it avoids many of the predictable traps a movie with such an emotional baggage can carry. There is no sanctimonious declaration of truth, justice and journalistic responsibility over all things, there is no clean cut bad vs good, there are no cocksure accusations at the church teachings. There is only a curiosity to uncover a truth, follow leads and write the best story possible—and as honestly as possible.
There is a great scene where Baron gracefully declines the cardinal’s suggestion that there is an institutional reliance between the church and the media by articulating his belief that the news should stand on its own, unencumbered by responsibility towards other societal institutions. To which the cardinal responds by giving him a copy of the catechism.
The cast of Spotlight is resplendent and so perfectly in sync every word and action never feels choreographed. The sets do not try to glorify or condescend to the lives of these reporters. Instead of coming off as cold and one dimensional, the characters feel wholesome despite the absence of personal lives. Michael Keaton slides into another brilliant role from last year’s utterly delightful Birdman into this one. Mark Ruffalo brings a blend of devotion and idealism that never feels fake or ignorant.
Rachel McAdams’s performance is particularly noteworthy, the highlight of which has her knock on a former priest’s door. She introduces herself, and asks matter-of-factly: “So did you ever molest minors in your church?”