spotlight_ver2This one has Oscar written all over it. It features a fabulous ensemble cast in a compelling docudrama based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation that still reverberates. Spotlight is the name of an investigative reporting unit at the Boston Globe that exposed the Boston Archdiocese pedophilia cover-up in 2001. The film begins as the team is sniffing around for their next story, which can frequently take them some time. But when the paper brings in a new editor-in-chief (Liev Schreiber), rather than letting them choose their own, he hands them an assignment that would become a bomb-shell in a city with deep Catholic roots. What begins as a cursory look at an old story of a single pedophile priest grows larger and reaches higher, and the team does what the best of journalism does, they follow their leads no matter what. And it is devastating.

I’m sure there are comparisons to be made with All the President’s Men, but these journalists are more low key, though no less heroic. They’re step by step uncovering a system of abuse within the Catholic Archdiocese that shocks them at every turn. There are moments that make you want to scream or throw up or both. What they uncovered was not merely that it had gone on, but that there were so many “important’ people who knew and did nothing as hundreds of children were molested – lawyers, policemen, and most damningly the Church itself. The team speaks to victims, their families, and in one of the most disturbing scenes, one of the priests who admits what he did. But it is their dogged investigating that turns up the proof that the Church was aware and just kept the priests moving from parish to parish that finally makes their case. They are aided by an eccentric lawyer (Stanley Tucci) who has been suing the Church for decades, and a victim who’s been collecting proof no one wanted to see.

The cast here really does work perfectly as an ensemble. Michael Keaton is once again brilliant as the head of the unit. And Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James shine as journalists in the trenches, but Mark Ruffalo stands out as the one who is most indignant and determined to give the story his very soul. Spotlight doesn’t have the musical swells to tell you where to care or gorgeous cinematography. It looks and feels as grim as its subject matter. But it is a heartfelt salute to the journalists who slog through the dirt, sift through the data, and piss off the powerful to bring these critical stories to light. I highly recommend it.

(I’d be extremely interested in Mainstream Chick’s take on this one, since she has a journalism degree and has worked in news.) Update: See comments section below!

One thought on “Spotlight”
  1. I (Mainstream Chick) agree with Arty Chick on this one. “Spotlight” is a quietly powerful movie that isn’t just about uncovering a massive cover-up involving pedophile priests in Boston and beyond. It also shines a light on what I suspect is a dying breed: investigative journalists, especially entire ‘units’ of investigative journalists. I think reporters and editors – however passionate about their craft – would be hard-pressed these days to secure the time and resources necessary to fully pursue this type of expose. I hope I’m wrong. But I doubt it. The best reporters and producers across the media landscape are often stretched extremely thin – called upon to service television, radio, newspaper and internet outlets in a 24/7 news cycle that thrives on wall-to-wall coverage of breaking news, “analysis”, and celebrity gossip. Who’s got time to pursue leads, cultivate sources, or file a FOIA request?!

    “Spotlight” doesn’t have the dramatic, thriller overtones of the ‘uncovering the Watergate cover-up’ classic “All The President’s Men.” But it definitely has a strong ensemble cast, and a refreshing reveal on how and why some stories get buried while others make it into the spotlight – eventually. Perhaps, if enough people see it, “Spotlight” can inspire change within the industry to shift the balance back – at least a bit – to what should be the primary mission: Getting the facts, telling good stories, and making a difference. Again, that’s IF enough people see it.

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