Newly nominated for six Oscars, topical drama Spotlight sees last year’s comeback king Michael Keaton lead an all-star cast into investigating sexual abuse by priests in the Boston archdiocese in the early 2000s.
Based on true and unfortunately ongoing events, local rag the Boston Globe’s only investigative unit – dubbed ‘Spotlight’ – have allegations of child molestation in the Catholic Church pointed out to them by their dull but eagle-eyed new editor Marty Baron (played by Liev Schreiber). Directed by Academy Award nominee Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor), Spotlight is a riveting tale of the team that shone a spotlight (literally) on the huge degree of corruption and ugliness at the heart of Boston’s Catholic community.
Finally breaking the story in 2002, Spotlight’s efforts would earn them the Pulitzer Prize in 2003, set off a wave of revelations globally and cause a crisis in one of the world’s oldest and most trusted institutions. The team consisted of chief journalist and editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Keaton), reporters Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams of Mean Girls and The Notebook fame) and Michael Rezendes (Foxcatcher’s Mark Ruffalo), and researcher Matt Carroll (Broadway regular Brian d’Arcy James).
As is now well known, offending priests were shifted from church to church where they continued their disgusting habits, and although paper trails were seemingly non-existent, the Spotlight team began looking into the case, much to the dismay of the Globe’s editor Ben Bradlee Jr (Mad Men’s silver fox John Slattery) who was none too keen to sue the Church for the relevant documents. As proof began to surface, a whopping 90 priests in Boston alone were revealed as pedophiles.
Despite most of the team (and actors for that matter) having strong roots in the religion, personal feelings were put aside as the scale of the cover-up was unveiled and the people they trusted were outed as sympathisers and aiders of the Church. Set in 2001 and 2002, The Globe’s tremendous efforts had to temporarily take a back seat as 9/11 unfolded, rather grotesquely cutting the Church and its conspirators some slack, and even giving them brownie points for their calming effect over the community in the wake of the terror attacks.
What Spotlight does well, and the real journalists would’ve done well too, was to not be tempted to water down the issue in terms of language. As children, flagging up terms like “molest” weren’t making the impact they warranted, but now as grown men, the victims were encouraged to be more detailed and upfront with their descriptions. These boys weren’t involved in a bit of touchy feely experimentation, they were groomed into having sex with men they trusted, and men their families had over for afternoon tea. Even if some grew up to be gay, their sexuality could never be used as an excuse on the part of the perpetrator, and this was something the Spotlight team (in particular McAdams’ reporter Sacha Pfeiffer) made sure to point out.
Cast wise, Spotlight hits the spot. Keaton, off the back of his career-defining, troubled titular role in last year’s black comedy hit Birdman, is in a much more traditional – but no less comfortable – position as Robby, and shines as the charismatic but caring lynchpin in the Spotlight team. McAdams and d’Arcy James are solid supports as reporters and researchers prospectively, and Ruffalo is again showing off his acting versatility as a tenacious but compassionate gung-ho journalist. The Hunger Games’ Stanley Tucci is great as protective victim’s attorney Mitchell Garabedian, whilst James Sheridan and Billy Crudup are equally good as corrupt lawyers for the Church.
Naturalistic, thorough and at times, wonderfully and gently humorous, Spotlight is an important biographical film. With an ensemble cast putting in some of their finest work, a script well paced and predicted and a director with a sensitive but persistent touch, the Oscar buzz is well deserved. Spotlight shines a spotlight on sex abuse, religion, the media and everyone who failed the children who were robbed of their innocence by the people they trusted. Sure to be a 2016 must-see!
Spotlight is out general release on January 28th.