Spotlight (dir. Tom McCarthy)

Posted: December 31, 2015 in Uncategorized

“Spotlight” is the story of how an investigative unit for the Boston Globe newspaper uncovered the widespread rape of children by Catholic priests in the area. How widespread? In the film, an expert on priest sex abuse estimates that 6% of all priests act out sexually with children.  The reporters found close to 90 priests in Boston and its surrounding areas in the course of their work.  The movie is largely about the investigative process of how this was discovered and proved, about the journalism field and the legal field, and about how the Catholic Church as an institution operates like a cross between an evil corporation and the mafia.

 

The film isn’t anti-religion, but it is certainly anti-Catholic Church, at least to the extent that the organization aided, abetted, and covered up the systemic and widespread rape of children, most of them poor and from single-parent families.  Because most of the residents of Boston and the surroundings are Catholic, the Church has a certain power with the people there, and the old and opulent organization is held in people’s hearts with fondness for the most part.  Also, the Church does take part in charitable work that benefits the area.  Because of all of these reasons, it seems people, individually, decided to turn a blind eye to what was going on.  The thinking seemed to be that the Church shouldn’t be sullied because of “a few bad apples”, and so everyone (most of whom were not aware of how WIDESPREAD the issue was) decided to look the other way, bury the news, settle out of court, and remain silent.  Much like how small communities can come to respect local Mafioso even though they’re aware of their crimes (see “Black Mass” for a look at the mafia operating in this same basic geographic area), people in Boston could love and revere the Church even if they knew of a couple of instances where a priest raped a child.

 

The Church, like a corporation, exists solely for its own means, and exists in perpetuity, regardless of the individuals in charge of running it for any given time period.  This allows it to both facilitate child rape, yet also somehow claim to not be wholly responsible for it.  “Spotlight” doesn’t just tell us about many of these cases with multiple priests and even more multiple victims, it tells us that the head official, and the Church hierarchy, went to great lengths to cover their tracks, and superficially chose not to keep kids out of harm’s way even when they knew who was doing what.   It also shows us how, by using lawyers who are acting within legal ethics if not ACTUAL ethics, manipulated the legal system to keep things under the rug and pay out token amounts to settle things quickly and quietly.  So yes, the Church is the main villain of this film, and if there is any indictment of religion in and of itself, it is of how religion exists as a cover and an excuse like no other entity on Earth does. If the Church were actually a corporation of an organized crime syndicate, it wouldn’t be able to get away with 6% of its members raping children.  It takes the “power” of religion to make people turn a blind eye to something that egregious.

 

“Spotlight” plays like an episode of “Law & Order”.  We get lots of facts and procedurals, but only snippets of character and personality.  This is not a character movie, this is a story movie, and the movie is so compelling, and the actors so good (especially Marc Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes, the most colorful of the reporters).  What makes the film so interesting is that it’s not really a mystery, but rather a film where almost everyone knows the truth, and everyone has pieces of the puzzle, but no one knows the SCALE or holds ALL of the pieces.  Reporters only follow individual instances, lawyers are bound by confidentiality and statutes of limitations, and perhaps the only person who really knew how deep this went was the man who was in charge of the Church in that area at the time, Cardinal Law (Len Cariou).  Once it was revealed to what extent Law went to hush up the rapes and not punish any of the priests involved, the fact that Pope John Paul II allowed Law to continue as a member of the Church AND to work in Rome at one of the biggest churches in the organization is reprehensible and certainly casts doubt as to whether John Paul should be held in such high esteem as he is today (the Church sainted the guy).  The Globe had many individual pieces and contacts, but it took a Jewish outsider newly running the paper (Live Schreiber) to want to put the long-term investigative unit on the case.  Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams don’t have much in the way of character material to work with, but as simply playing reporters looking into a story, they get the movie from point A to point B in a fashion that doesn’t feel as script-driven and perfunctory as it could be.

 

The lack of rich main characters holds “Spotlight” back from being a great movie about reports like, say, David Fincher’s “Zodiac”, but the skillful way in which the film unfolds and the raw power of the story it tells is so captivating that it almost doesn’t matter.  Plus we do get a few interesting supporting turns from the likes of Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup to spice things up, much like how “Law & Order” kept plots interesting with a rich revolving door of special guest stars.  As it stands “Spotlight” is an excellent film that is just shy of greatness because it feels like an acted documentary, a film that exists to give facts and show events than to have characters and create a narrative with them.  However, do not let that dissuade you from seeing this film.  It tells an important story in a compelling and at times suspenseful fashion, with wonky looks at the fields of media and law that will interest buffs of either industry.  It also breaks your heart because, no matter how much is finally revealed and how much truth comes out, nothing can change the fact that thousands of children were raped, and hardly anyone was punished.  Knowledge can be power, but it isn’t enough to provide justice. A-

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