Spotlight (2015) Review
A story of pedophile priests, Vatican cover-ups, a complicit city, an investigative team with all the cards stacked against them, and an A-list cast. Spotlight, directed by Thomas Joseph McCarthy (The Station Agent, Win-Win) is a masterpiece, grabbing your attention and never letting go to deliver one of the best movies of 2015.
Spotlight, named after the Boston Globe’s investigative journalism team, covers their work to expose the sexual abuse of children by several Catholic priests and how the Vatican and their cardinals knew all along this was happening. With the blind loyalty of majority Catholic cities like Boston, or willful ignorance of cities where the Catholic Church was (and still is) heavily involved in charity, the Vatican managed to protect its sexual predators, and make the issue look much smaller than it was. Only small newspapers no one had ever heard of were given stories from the Vatican so that, in a time when the Internet was not the mainstream wonder it is today, no one would think to dig deeper and expose the systemic cover-up and protection of pedophiles in the Catholic Church, courtesy of Cardinals and the Vatican.
The Boston Globe comes under new leadership with Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) and puts a focus in alleged sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church, his Jewish faith and birth in Florida not giving him the illusion that the institution is infallible. Led by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), the Spotlight team works to expose the Catholic Church’s lies. Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) works intensely, obsessively, to find the truth, especially with Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), researching several records and legal cases to determine how widespread the problem is. Sacha Pfieffer (Rachel McAdams) interviews people who say they were victims of abuse, detailing how the events transpired. Slowly but surely, they work to expose Cardinal Bernard Law (Leonard Cariou). Along the way we learn about how these affect Robinson, Rezendes, and Pfieffer personally due to their own Catholic upbringings, and they have since “drifted away” from the faith. Impressively, McCarthy doesn’t make our heroes out to be perfect saints. He presents them as flawed individuals, who even doubt themselves, allowing the audience to relate to them.
There is one flaw with Spotlight, its music. The movie feels the need to play the exact same piano piece every five minutes. It’s not bad, but it was easily noticeable and became a minor annoyance.
Many Catholic leaders have responded with praise to the movie. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston has stated that the Spotlight team are the ones who made the Catholic Church wake up due to the public outrage over the exposed events and sent a jolt to the Catholic Church “to deal with what was shameful and hidden”. O’Malley has reaffirmed the policy of “zero tolerance concerning the abuse of minors” and “reporting and disclosing information concerning allegations of abuse”.
The best part of this movie is what happened behind the scenes. The cast, according to the real-life people they portrayed, actually became the people portrayed. Interviews with the real life Robinson, Rezendes, and Pfieffer, they describe how the actors prepared for the roles. They were surprised at how accurately the actors portrayed them. Ruffalo had Rezendes’ laugh, talking in his tone. Keaton talked and sounded exactly like Robinson. McAdams acted exactly the way Pfieffer did during interviews. The actors had lengthy meetings with the people in order to prepare for the roles, with Ruffalo actually taking pictures in Rezendes’ house while talking to him.
This movie is also personal for me as a Roman Catholic, who has always been frustrated with the Vatican’s indifference to the sexual abuse of children. When I first heard about this years ago, I was shocked and angry. I have never been subject to molestation, but the fact that higher-ups did not seem to care about it, and instead were more focused on covering up the whole incident, made me question my faith. I considered converting into different religions, but then I saw how they all have the same problem. I considered not having any faith altogether. Then I found out about the Jesuits, and similar groups in each religion. I am still Catholic now, I’ve never left, thanks to the existence of groups like these that tell me there are still people who care. “Pope” and “Cardinal” are nothing more than titles to me. I like the Jesuits, who follow the Pope, but unlike other Catholics, are not afraid to question Catholic dogma when it is out of line and needs to adapt.
Sadly in all religions most people do not seem aware of the need to adapt and provide criticism and questioning when need be. Spotlight shows one reason why this constructive criticism is needed today.