Winner of the ‘Best Picture’ academy award this year, Spotlight is one of the most spine-chilling true story cinematic experiences I’ve sat through. In January 2002, not long after 9/11, the city of Boston picked up their Boston Globe newspaper from their front step with the headline “Church Allowed Abuse by Priests for Years.” It’s the story that encouraged so many abused survivors to speak out. And the film conveys the same force and powerful message, and makes for an evocative journey.
When the Boston Globe’s tenacious “Spotlight” team of reporters delves into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church, their year-long investigation uncovers a decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston’s religious, legal and government establishment, touching off a wave of revelations around the world.
Spotlight‘s brilliance relies heavily on it’s dot-to-dot pace; we follow the team trying to join them up to unravel a scandal that just expands each time a passing comment turns into a discovery of another priest or victim. It cuts back and forth between victims stories, to one of the team chasing a new lead, back to another in the Court House. The further they delve, the more we witness the fear and paranoia that takes it’s toil on each member who are living in a majority Catholic Boston. Some have kids, some know victims and they each know how narrowly they escaped: “it could have been you, it could have been me, it could’ve been any of us!”
Another factor of Spotlight‘s brilliance is it’s underplayed cast. Michael Keaton is on top form as veteran editor Walter “Robbie” Robinson. Rachel McAdams is at her best as Sacha Pfeiffer, playing comforting and fierce all at once. Liev Schreiber is Marty Baron, non-Bostonian and non-Catholic, and is the new Editor of the Globe, here to make an impact. Brian d’Arcy James, John Flattery, Billy Crudup and Stanley Tucci are also all excellent, driving the film forward. But the true standout among them is Mark Ruffalo as the tenacious, hard-working Mike Rezendes.
The victims’ stories of abuse and turmoil are so touching and so real, yet aren’t hammed up for the purpose of Hollywood. As Tom McCarthy and Stanley Tucci’s Mitch Garabedian reminds us, this is bigger than Boston and bigger than America; this is Global because “if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” The Church is portrayed as this completely untouchable entity by any distraught parent, lawyer, judges or the police itself: “no-one wants to cuff a priest.”
This is investigative journalism at it’s best, and the choice to tell their story of uncovering the scandal rather than the victim’s itself is original, bold and why this film works. It’s gripping from start to finish, and the ending gives me goosebumps every single time. In my opinion, Spotlight is one of the most important and powerful films produced in this century so far.