Review: Spotlight

By Mel
12 Feb 16


I love a good newspaper film and this one definitely didn't disappoint. It's a quietly considered, but passionate film, much like it's wonderful ensemble cast, who immediately shine with diligence & integrity - in place of actor-y showiness and star power. An easy trap to fall into with the impressive line up, but actor-turned-director Tom McCarthy puts story front and centre, letting the actors do their brilliant work. It's an assured and trusting approach that pays off in spades.

The film feels immediate & relevant (a brief, but sudden switch to the 9/11 attack is the only real reminder that it's set 15 years ago) as we follow the Spotlight team during their investigation into the case of one Boston priest accused of child abuse, which soon unravels into a larger, more sinister story of an institutional cover up.

Realisation soon sets in about just how powerful the church is - particularly since we are in Boston, where 50%of the population identifies as Catholic. We hear a former priest still devoted to his faith, long after turning away from the church; we glimpse a distraught mother of 2 abused daughters, still clutching her rosary as she meets with her lawyer. One strange scene depicts a ritualistic summons of the newly appointed Boston Globe editor to the office of the Cardinal - a city custom that appears to baffle no one (except said editor - the Jewish out-of-towner). There's an underlying sense of sadness throughout, that's also infuriating and the film could have easily gone down the "get the bad guys" path, but smartly maintains it's measured approach - without ignoring the challenges of keeping one's emotions at bay. One particular scene has Mark Ruffalo's frustrated journalist argue with his boss about when to release the story. The right call is made, but it shows that journalistic responsibility is not just about getting the facts right. Such decisions have very real consequences for the lives of everyone involved - and that can take a toll. The phrase "what if we're wrong?" seems particularly terrifying in this context.

It could be easy to paint these people as heroes, but the film doesn't shy away from their own complicity - the media, just like the rest of us, often ignored the vastness of the Catholic Church's systematic and very deliberate cover up of a known pattern of child abuse. Even in it's end credits, the film shows us, via a sobering list of cities worldwide (NZ among them), that it's an issue still staring us in the face - asking us not to look away once again.