There is one seminal newspaper movie and this is it. True, I wanted more from it, but that’s only because it is such a strong picture I wanted it to risk more at the end. When Spotlight is very good, however, it’s so powerful that time stands still leaving me to be shaken by it. In 2001, the Boston Globe hired a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber, low-key yet unsung in a great cast), to overhaul the paper and increase revenue. As one of America’s more successful running newspapers, sales only minimally dented by the new occupying force of the world wide web, the publication has a Spotlight feature that entails a special team to do long-range stories that require extra time and investigation. The latest investigation, as decided by Baron, will be an expose on the Catholic Church and on the Cardinal’s cover-up of Boston priests who have molested young children, albeit, the team uncovers thirteen involved. And then nearly a hundred priests who have been protected by the Church.
For a young child to be molested by a priest, that’s not only physical abuse but of a spiritual abuse because they have had their faith shattered. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James and John Slattery are among the actors who portray the newspaper editors and feature writers who reckon this sad truth, which they learn from questioning survivors. Quietly, this team is emotionally impacted, and then driven, to perform at a higher journalistic level.
I didn’t think I would be as impacted by this film because I had already experienced the documentary treatment with 2006’s “Deliver Us From Evil” which had a guilty priest candidly speak to the camera about his transgressions – the more he talked, the more he sounded like he was spiritually exonerated because he was closer to God than mere people. “Spotlight” has one scene that ringed of that familiarity, when Sacha Pfeiffer (McAdams) questions a former priest at his home who is candid with touching boys and it turns out he has a strange rationalization for his disgraced behavior.
“I always assumed that one day I would go back,” Michael Rezendes (Ruffalo) says in regards to once quitting Church, “I had that in my back pocket.” When there are this many hypocritical men of the cloth in this world, what good is it bowing down for religion? I can’t blame men like Rezendes being critical of such institutions which exist to put up sham sanctimony and racket big money from the cities they occupy.
The reporters in this film ask the hard questions, unflagging and penetrating. This would be immediately a flaccid, mawkish movie had it been dumbed down. We see sharp-witted people at work, mingling in social situations at a high level, and we come to see them so clearly we understand what they see as journalistic integrity.
The story is momentarily disrupted by the events of 9/11, and we see how the editors navigate, and work with delays, around that. Director and co-writer Tom McCarthy, with co-writer Josh Singer, don’t back down from the inconveniences. McCarthy says he was inspired by the 1982 film “The Verdict” (my all-time favorite courtroom drama) as a driving mechanism to better his work here – and the two films certainly have a starkness and a sternness at observing investigative work being done. Their kind of subtlety plays more real.
Yet the ending is too pat. It’s a perfectly decent ending for a decent movie. But this is a stronger movie. When a movie is this good, why doesn’t a backing studio extend the budget in order to finish a movie like this properly? Yes, on January 6, 2002, the Boston Globe published an unprecedented story at length on the scandal. That is nicely dramatized. But really, I would have liked to see the faces of those people disgraced, and more direct anguished stories of those victims learning of the story outbreak.
Winner of two Oscars, Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.
129 Minutes. Rated R.
HISTORICAL DRAMA / ADULT ORIENTATION / WEEKEND FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Film Cousins: “All the President’s Men” (1976); “The Paper” (1994); “Deliver Us From Evil” (2006); “Zodiac” (2007).