Film review: Spotlight (2015), directed by Tom McCarthy
tl;dr: The riveting story behind how a Boston newspaper broke the news of the Catholic Church hiding paedophile priests.
It’s 2001 and Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) is the new managing editor of The Boston Globe. He’s an outsider, so when he reads an article where a lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), is claiming that the Archbishop of Boston (Len Cariou) knew about a priest’s sexual abuse of children back in the 1970s, and yet did nothing to stop him, he has no qualms about having the “Spotlight” investigative team of the newspaper looking into it.
At first, the team’s editor, Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) is hesitant – the Catholic Church is a big and influential force in Boston. If you’re a Catholic, you just wouldn’t go there, it would be akin to spiritual treason. The Globe’s assistant managing editor, Ben Bradlee Jr (John Slattery), is also weary of it, but the investigation goes ahead. Journalists Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) start digging.
What they first think is a story about the church covering up the deeds of one paedophile priest turns out to be a much larger story than that. Over the course of a bit over a decade, they discover it’s not just the one priest back in the 1970s, it’s dozens upon dozens of priests over literal decades that have been covered up. By the Catholic Church, by their lawyers (e.g. Jamey Sheridan), by police, by journalists not asking questions … But the victims (e.g. Paul Guilfoyle, Neal Huff) know, their lawyers (e.g. Tucci, Billy Crudup) know, as does a psychotherapist (Richard Jenkins) who actually “treated” some of the priests back in the day.
Spotlight came on late one night, and I didn’t specifically intend to watch it. But, as these things often go with very good films (the 217th best in the world according to IMDb at the time of writing), I couldn’t stop. After a while I set it to record so I could finish it when it wasn’t way past midnight. It’s an incredible film. Not just from having a number of excellent actors in it, but because it’s based on a true story, which make it even more chilling. These aren’t made up victims and made up abusers and a made up cover-up, but it actually happened. If they could find over 80 priests whose crimes have been made to go away in the Boston area alone, how many others are there in other cities in America alone?
Before I get tangled up in a rant about organised religion, it’s interesting to note not just how this is about Boston and stars Liev Schreiber. If you haven’t seen Ray Donovan – which you absolutely should, by the way, it’s stunningly well-acted – you know that the Donovan family are from Boston, and find out early in the first season that Ray (played by Schreiber) has a brother who’s not only an abuse survivor, but a paedophile priest survivor.
Spotlight shows how much went into this investigation, and how long it took before they were able to publish it. While the film takes some creative liberties at times, it’s still apparently 75%+ historically accurate. It’s not quite a documentary, but you do learn a lot about how the investigative process worked, which is fascinating in itself. And taking on an institution that has made so many children and parents sign non-disclose agreements and paying them for their silence? That’s an institution that needs to have a reckoning. And this is a must-see film.
5 out of 5 court transcripts.