Review: Spotlight

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Over decades, allegations of child abuse by Catholic priests had been swept under the table until the new editor of the Boston Globe (Liev Schreiber) appointed investigative journalists to uncover the truth in 2001. Spotlight director Tom McCarthy convincingly picks up the true story that exposed the sins of over 90 priests in Massachusetts and won a Pulitzer Prize.

This newsroom drama goes way beyond the headlines of the Boston newspaper in 2002 and takes you through the entire process of the investigation. Knocking on doors, bashing phones, searching court documents and church directories, hearing victims’ testimonies and questioning lawyers’ professionalism, the team gradually uncover a scandal that hits a community in which Catholicism is a way of life, and its morality rarely doubted.

Like any good reporting job, the story builds up step by step and bits of information are presented gradually:  there is always more for us to find out. At the same time, the director constantly encourgaes us to pay close attention and to follow-up all the details.

Even though this movie is about the cover-up of unspoken crimes, Spotlight shifts the focus away from the church and onto reporters. Editor Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) and his team – Sacha Pfeiffer (played by a less glamorous than usual Rachel McAdams), restless Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) and family man Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) – not only get involved professionally but also begin to doubt their trust in the church. Another compelling character that gets involved with cases of paedophile priests is Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), whose dedication for his job turned into a lifelong project – “I never got married, I am too busy.”

“But this is the church we are talking about.” From reporters and editors, this line is dramatically repeated throughout the script, making up most of the attention the church actively receives in the film. Scenes showing the clerics appear to be short and not too essential to the development of the story.

One of the most intense sequences of the film puts Ruffalo into the spotlight – a long-suppressed emotional outburst highlights his strong performance. Yet it’s the strongest when he acts less emotional, immersing deep into his role of uncovering the truth, being patient and remaining quiet when listening to victims’ stories.

Another strong and extremely well-played character is Buron, whose almost reserved conduct builds an interesting contrast not only to the dramatic subject but also the partially frenzied reactions of his team and the emotional testimonies of the victims.

It feels that McCarthy has consciously passed on visual effects; it is the strong performances of the actors that dramatize the movie. Keeping in mind that technology and the Internet have not yet become journalists’ primary tools in 2001, McCarthy keeps the movie’s visual effects just as simple.

The last shocking information for the viewer is a list of child abuse cases from all over the world revealed since Spotlight’s investigation, having you wonder how it could ever come this far.

Spotlight is a must-watch for every journalist, yet underlines the importance and impact of good reporting to serve the public interest of our entire population.


Words by Ann-Christin Schubert

Picture from The Spectator

Jess is your Deputy Editor

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