The sexual abuse scandal in the Boston Catholic Church rocked much of the world when it was revealed by The Boston Globe in 2002. Spotlight dramatizes how the investigative team exposed this scandal. The term “spotlight” refers to the team of reporters at the Boston Globe who investigates an issue or topic in depth for months, thereby shining a “spotlight” on the previously unknown. This Spotlight team was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for their efforts depicted in the film. Spotlight is a fantastic film about the importance of “outsiders”, institutional corruption, thorough investigative journalism, and the dire consequences of inaction.
Spotlight begins with the Boston Globe receiving a new Editor In Chief, Marty Baron, an awkward outsider (he’s Jewish, and not from Boston) who is viewed with suspicion by the staff. Marty tasks the Spotlight team to investigate a case of a Catholic priest who is allegedly a serial molester. The story snowballs gradually from there. Almost immediately the Spotlight team is hit with resistance within the Globe about their investigative methods and sources. The Catholic Church, an incredibly powerful institution in the city of Boston, uses all its might to dissuade Spotlight from continuing their research, but they steadfastly continue to investigate these allegations.
The Catholic Church itself is portrayed in the film as a powerful, resourceful, and dangerous institution. The Church has control and/or influence with nearly every major institution in the city of Boston. The “small-town” inclusiveness of the city only further allows the Church to abuse and misuse its power, while vigorously opposing or discrediting anyone who attempts to speak out. The Church even indirectly benefits from the shame of the victims and the parish pressuring them to keep silent. Mitchell Garabedian, an Armenian Lawyer (another vital outsider standing against the Church) representing dozens of alleged victims, posits, “The Church thinks in centuries Mr. Rezendes, do you really think your paper has the resources to take this on?” As the Spotlight team traverses across the city of Boston in search of the truth, a church is often looming in the background, as if watching their every move. This is the behemoth the Spotlight team must defeat.
Spotlight is directed and edited with an unpretentious simplicity that allows us to focus on the team and their investigative efforts. This simplicity is what gives the film’s raw look into the massive corruption a lasting impact. Furthermore, the film’s muted palette, and haunting ambient theme, gives a serious and somber backdrop to its grave subject matter. The Spotlight team of Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) are hardworking, driven reporters. Their investigative reporting is never dull as they uncover an astonishing amount of facts and disturbing details. Their triumph reveals the corruption and gross negligence of not only the Catholic Church, but other powerful Boston institutions. Their efforts come at a high personal price as the investigation is emotionally draining on the reporters, all of whom were raised catholic. Each have their faith shattered by the investigation and are haunted by the results. Keaton’s reaction, in particular, toward the end of the film is utterly devastating. Its conclusion is as satisfying as it is tragic.
It took two outsiders, one an Armenian lawyer, and the other a Jewish editor to get the ball rolling for the Spotlight team. Garabedian in particular is critical to their success and he illuminates the issue with a scathing indictment of Boston’s corruption, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” Black Mass could learn a lot from Spotlight in how to depict institutional corruption in Boston. The final numbers revealed at the end will undoubtedly horrify you and leave you feeling depressed and angry. Why was this allowed to go on so long? Why did it take so long to uncover it? For Spotlight the answer is simple, no one wanted to look.
TLDR: A deeply depressing and unsettling film about marrow deep corruption in the city of Boston and the investigation that brought the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal to light-4/5 Stars