A film in which the Catholic Church is the villain, challenged by a team of journalists uncovering a sex abuse scandal, is bound to generate interest. The potential for melodrama is boundless when the subject matter is paedophilia within religious institutions, but Spotlight gracefully avoids over-dramatising the events and maintains a respectful distance from its characters’ private lives. Rather than delve into the scandal itself, Spotlight is mainly concerned with the journalistic approach to a sensitive case, and it documents the investigative process in a sober, understated manner that proves to be its strength.
Based on actual events, the film follows the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe as it embarks on a quest for the truth and uncovers, piece by piece, one of the biggest scandals to affect the Catholic Church. The four reporters entrusted with the case spend months researching the facts, and they face obstacles concerning ethical issues as well as the authorities’ unwillingness to cooperate. A lot of emphasis is placed on the community’s reluctance to acknowledge the wrongdoings, and the media itself fails to pursue the abuse stories for decades, in spite of a number of opportunities and available clues.
Once the truth begins to emerge, the number of culprits increases exponentially, and it is clear that the reporters are deeply affected on an emotional level as they come to realise the sheer size of the scandal. The end credits are followed by a list of cities, in the US and worldwide, where major scandals of a similar nature have occurred. Its shocking length makes the audience feel as the reporters do when it becomes apparent to them that it is not a question of a number of isolated cases, but rather a plague affecting an inestimable amount of people.
By raising awareness of the scandals, the film does for a larger audience what the newspaper does for its community. The movie itself is a well-researched report that stirs away from the superfluous. In the age of clickbaiting, this is a nod to serious journalism and an ode to old-style reporting where physical effort is required to chase clues, track down sources, verify facts and interview witnesses. The personal, manual input of the professional is celebrated as the irreplaceable element that marks the distinction between a sound, reliable investigation and sensationalism.
With superb performances by Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and the cast at large, Spotlight is not just a gripping story but an important exposé of a highly damaging phenomenon. Sophisticated and authentic, it glorifies the same qualities it possesses: dedication, grace and a commitment to the truth.
Spotlight is released nationwide on 29th January 2016.
Watch the trailer for Spotlight here: