BREAK THE STORY. BREAK THE SILENCE.
There’s a scene near the end of the film that will get the adrenaline pumping in any journalist. That’s when the Boston Globe printing presses start rolling and the scoop everybody’s been working on is finally published. The film takes place in 2001-2002, before the Internet started killing printed newspapers, and it is indeed a special feeling watching those mighty presses get to work. Printed media isn’t dead yet, but a sad aspect of this revolution is that part of what’s always been romantic about newspapers is gone forever. It’s been a staple in movies since forever. Will future stories about the media feature exciting moments where someone… just… clicks “enter”?
We’re in Boston in the summer of 2001. The Globe has just hired a new editor, the timid Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). At his first meeting with the newsroom reporters, he brings up a recent column where the writer discusses a possible cover-up of a sexual-abuse case involving a Catholic priest, John Geoghan. Marty wants Spotlight, a group of investigative reporters led by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), to look into the case. This is not the first time that the paper has written about Geoghan, but not much has come of it since the records have been sealed.
For the Globe to request those records essentially means suing the Boston Archdiocese, which is not taken lightly in a city where the church and its charities are powerful and a vast number of the readers are Catholics. As the Spotlight reporters begin to investigate, it’s clear that many, many more priests may have abused children…
Painting an ugly portrait of Boston
Based on the actual story of how Cardinal Bernard Law spent decades helping pedophile priests escape justice by moving them to a new parish, or sending them on “sick leave”, this film and Black Mass of the same year do not paint a pretty portrait of Boston. Corruption seems to have been rampant and director Tom McCarthy, together with co-writer Josh Singer, depicts the city and its people living in the shadow of a church that refused to address the problem of so many priests preying on children. Shame and the general belief that the church did so much to help the poor were reasons for the victims to keep quiet, while men like Law used attorneys and money to make sure the crisis remained hidden.
McCarthy also shows how the Boston Globe can’t go without blame; there were moments when the scandal could have been exposed earlier. We get the full story, with only a brief prologue that takes place a few decades before and shows how pedophile priests were not this new thing that just popped up in 2001. As Stanley Tucci’s character, a lawyer, says at a pivotal moment: “It may take a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to abuse a child”. McCarthy keeps our attention throughout, with credibility as a leading mark. Some may compare this film with All the President’s Men (1976), but you won’t see any shadowy figures in garages; tension is achieved in other ways. It’s the interviews with victims and perpetrators, staff meetings and investigations that bring forth all the emotions of what becomes a massive scandal.
A great cast includes Keaton as the level-headed Spotlight editor, and Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams as two of his most devoted reporters.
Much of the film may look ordinary. McCarthy’s approach is very straightforward; there’s nothing fancy about it. He seems to believe in the strength of his cast and the script and feels no need to spice things up. McCarthy likes comedy, but Spotlight is just as compelling a drama as the director’s The Visitor (2008).
Spotlight 2015-U.S. 128 min. Color. Produced by Blye Pagon Faust, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin, Michael Sugar. Directed by Tom McCarthy. Screenplay: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer. Cast: Mark Ruffalo (Mike Rezendes), Michael Keaton (Walter “Robby” Robinson), Rachel McAdams (Sacha Pfeiffer), Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy James… Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, Len Cariou. Voice of Richard Jenkins.
Trivia: Matt Damon was allegedly considered as Rezendes.
Oscars: Best Picture, Original Screenplay. BAFTA: Best Original Screenplay.
Last word: “[Ruffalo’s] an actor first and I think he just responded to the script. I know he wanted to work with me and I think he responded to the character. I think as an actor, that’s what you’re looking at. As a human being, it’s no secret that Mark’s quite an activist, and specifically for social causes, social justice. I think he saw in this movie a great injustice and ultimately a great justice, and he saw the opportunity to tell a story where justice was served in some regard, although there’s still work to be done, I think everyone agrees.” (McCarthy, Deadline)