There’s a moment in Spotlight which sums up all it aims to reveal and all it aims to shame, whilst advocating the need for empowered people to stop going unchecked. This moment sees Mark Ruffalo’s investigative reporter Mike Rezendes, standing at the back of a Catholic Church, watching a choir of children rehearsing and being conducted by a priest. As a lapsed Catholic himself, now investigating instances of child abuse at the hands of the Boston Catholic order, Mike’s face is a picture of fear, anger, concern and the questioning of his very beliefs in both religious and human terms. It is a remarkable piece of filmmaking and is just one such instance in a film filled with moments of bracing cinema.
The larger (true) story follows a team of journalists (known as Spotlight) who are the deep investigative team working at the Boston Globe. The team are known for working up to a year at a time on a single story and are also known as the best at what they do. But they are struggling to find a new piece of work, and after a new editor joins the paper (Liev Schreiber in a fantastically understated performance) they together look at exploring historical local abuse cases brought against the church, which were subsequently settled out of court. So begins the digging, and soon the horror and magnitude of the scale of molestation (and its covering up) in Boston is revealed.
Here’s the thing. Spotlight is a brilliant procedural movie in the vein of true classics like All the Presidents Men. The cast are note perfect and the pacing works in allowing the truth to creep up on you like a thick slime that makes you writhe uncomfortably in your seat. But its true strength is the feeling it leaves you with as the credits roll.
I’ve rarely been so on the verge of angry tears as Spotlight made me, and I didn’t sleep well at all afterwards, just sat in bed thinking about it. I kept talking about what it means in the wider sense and the more I talked the angrier I got.
I’m not declaring that people abandon their faith, that’s not what’s coming next if you were wondering. It just reveals a truth to me, that because of the endemic nature of these worldwide cases, the Catholic Church, to me, loses its identity as a religion and becomes more akin to a faceless corporation, focused more on the gain of its employees than the wellbeing of its ‘customers.’ For if the church had taken action, distanced itself from these myriad abusers, then it would have stood as a bastion of strength. But the fact it chose to quash the stories and sweep them under the rug, implies they weren’t concerned with ever stopping it, and in some perverse way were thereby encouraging it.
I could go on. But it is unfair and most assuredly unwise to write about personal feelings regarding the faith of others in the review of a film. But I do think that a film such as Spotlight demands that of us. And I hope that as more people see it, there will be more debates on the subject.
What’s most enjoyable for me is that a film can create this strong a reaction in the first place. Films are at their very best when they make you question either something about yourself or the world around you. Spotlight does both.