Spotlight harkens back to a not too distant past when the world valued old school journalism. A time when getting the facts right was more important than being the first to break the news in 140 characters on Twitter. In an age where the internet and social media has crippled the newspaper industry financially, and more people process information in two minute sound bites, Tom McCarthy’s film serves as an important reminder as to why true journalism is still a vital part of society. It is not only a vehicle for providing information, but it also has the ability to change, and at time save, lives.
The lives at stake in McCarthy’s film are the vulnerable boys and girls who are preyed on by predators that they have been taught since birth to trust the most. Taking place in 2001, Spotlight shines a light on the events that led the Boston Globe to exposing the widespread practices of child molestation that was occurring within the Catholic Church in Massachusetts. When their new boss, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) who is Jewish, charges them with the looking into some allegations made against a Catholic priest, the paper’s investigative unit named Spotlight – consisting of Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfieffer (Rachel McAdams), Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), and Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) – is less than impressed to say the least. The team is not only used to coming up with their own assignments, but is also in the midst of research for another potential story.
Furthermore, they worry that the idea of investigating the church will not sit well with the newspaper’s subscribers who are fifty-three percent Catholic. Though reluctant to take the assignment, the Spotlight team soon begins to see signs of fire around seemingly smoke filled rumours. As they dig deeper into their investigation the unit not only uncover how deep the allegations go, but also the immense power the Catholic Church has over a city like Boston.
One of the many strengths of Spotlight is that it takes the time to show the investigation process. There is a reason why the Spotlight team usually spends up to a year working on a story. They need to ensure that the facts are correct, that their credibility as journalist ignites trust and respect in their readers. They are not merely trying to sell a few newspapers, but rather challenge people to truly look at the things in the world that they often turn a blind eye to.
Instead of simply making the film solely a condemnation of the Catholic Church, Tom McCarthy places the blame equally on society as well. As Stanley Tucci’s Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer who represents several of the victims, points out “if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.” Those who refused to acknowledge the atrocities, or simply fluffed it off as being the actions of “a few bad apples,” are just as guilty as the predators themselves. While the film makes it clear that the institution of the church needs an overhaul in regards to how it handles the misconducts of the men of the cloth, rather than simply reassigning them to new parishes, the fact that this is not simply a Boston issue, but a global one, is hard to ignore. No one, not even the Boston Globe, is above judgment.
Though the investigation often overshadows the character development in the film, the principle cast give outstanding performances. Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton in particular are exceptional as men who are ultimately fighting for the same thing, but have conflicting views on how best to achieve those goals. McCarthy allows his characters time to immerse themselves into the investigation which, in turn, ensures the audience becomes just as obsessed with uncovering the truth as the journalists.
Highlighting the importance of old school journalism work, and anchored by sensational performances, Spotlight is a film worth stopping the presses for.