The Good: Pacing, Plot development, Decent performances
The Bad: Light on character development
The Basics: Impressive and worthwhile, Spotlight is difficult to watch more because the viewer will know it did not destroy the Catholic Church as opposed to any flaws within the film!
Today, I'm watching my last Best Picture nominee (I'm foregoing Mad Max: Fury Road because genre films and sequels have virtually no representation in Best Picture Oscar winners and Bridge Of Spies because it seems more like a courtesy nomination to Steven Spielberg than a genuine contender for the big prize): Spotlight. Spotlight is this year's big issue-based controversy nominee, following in the footsteps of movies like Doubt and Selma (reviewed here!). The film has one of the best-nominated casts of the year and it has a simplistic plot (for a film) that follows in the cinematic history of films like All The President's Men (reviewed here!).
Spotlight is based on how the reporters at the Boston Globe did investigative work to expose the conspiracy within the local Catholic Church whereby it silenced complainants from molestation victims. While Spotlight is based upon real and historical events, it is a film. It is important to note that; that when I refer to characters in the film - and judge them - it is only the film's characters I am talking about, not the historic personas upon which the film is based.
Opening in a prison in Boston, Massachussets in 1975, a desk sergeant and a cop discuss a suspect and the complainant they have in a room. The beat cop is outside and surprised when the priest and the bishop walk out and there will be no arraignment. At the Boston Globe in 2001, Walter Robinson meets with the new editor, Marty Baron. Robinson works on the Spotlight team, a special investigative group that breaks controversial stories that take up to a year to investigate and break. At his first writer's meeting, Baron reacts to a column on the "Geoghan case," a three year-old priest molestation case, where it appears that the Cardinal and local Catholic church knew about a Boston priest molested eighty children going back at least fifteen years. Robinson and his team investigate the Church.
Reporter Mike Rezendes interviews lawyer Mitchell Garabedian about the cases (84 of them) involving Catholic priests who molested children. Garabedian is almost paranoid about the Church and the way it has hounded him since he first started representing molestation victims. As the Spotlight team begins to investigate, they discover how much blowback there is from the Church and the community. The team quickly realizes that the pattern that the support group leader told them about might actually be real. After interviewing molestation victims, clergy and lawyers, the team fights to break the story. When an analyst investigating the psychological phenomenon since the 1960s implies that the paper's number of 13 bad priests in Boston should be (statistically) 90, the Spotlight team realizes that they might have a much bigger story.
Spotlight accurately portrays and recreates the effects and stories of molestation victims. It is difficult to hear their stories, but viewers have to acknowledge that it must have been far more difficult to actually be a molestation victim. Spotlight expertly details how the abusive priests act as predators to children of low-income families. When the clues point in the direction of a vastly higher number, the investigative reporting aspect of the story takes priority in the film.
In addition to accurately giving voice to victims of sexual abuse, Spotlight illustrates how a tenacious team of reporters actually works. Much of the magic of the story of Spotlight is that the characters care and they fight to ask the important questions. As the story that the Spotlight team is working on is derailed by the September 11, 2001 attacks, its members become passionate about breaking the story. The characters are tenacious and they ask questions and fight to expose the truth.
Mike Rezendes, Walter Robinson, Sacha Pfeiffer, Matt Carroll, and Marty Baron are not overly complicated characters; they share many of the same traits. Garabedian and Macleish are bound by professional ethics, but still made attempts in their past to break the story - but no one listened to them. Carroll has children he is afraid might encounter one of the priests, Pfeiffer loses her faith and Robinson discovers that his Catholic school had priests who victimized people he knew.
While Spotlight is very much an ensemble piece, Mike Rezendes and Robinson dominate the character aspect of the narrative. Rezendes lost his faith long ago, but he always thought he might go back to church. Rezendes, as played by Mark Ruffalo, presents a level of anger that the audience feels long before he exhibits it. Robinson quickly realizes how the "code of silence" and the mechanisms of keeping people silent worked. The characters are generally focused and intense and their commitment to getting the story right is only momentarily trumped by the desire not to get scooped by another Boston newspaper.
The cast of Spotlight is predictably amazing. If there is any, even minor supporting, role that Stanley Tucci cannot absolutely rock, I don't yet know it. Tucci is amazing is impressive in his conflicted role of Mitchell Garabedian. Liev Schreiber might quietly growl his way through all of his lines in ways that are very familiar for the performer, but he makes the role of Marty Baron magnetic to watch. Brian D'Arcy James, John Slattery, Billy Crudup, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, and Michael Keaton are all wonderful in their very straightforward roles.
Spotlight is a film based on an issue and an investigation even more than the characters involved in it, so it is a triumph how captivating the film is when its results are already known to almost all viewers. The extent of the sexual abuse problem in the Catholic Church is presented as completely stunning and it is astonishing that the 2002 story the Boston Globe broke did not lead to massive systemic changes. Like The Big Short (reviewed here!), Spotlight explores a massive problem that was exposed and had the potential to change the world . . . but didn't.
Director Tom McCarthy directs Spotlight well, but the story is not a particularly flashy or cinematic one. Spotlight is like a play on screen, but McCarthy and the performers make it work well enough to be an engaging and enduring film.
For other works with Len Cariou, please visit my reviews of:
"Coda" - Star Trek: Voyager
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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