Sexual abuse is an awful and controversial subject. We all saw a bunch of movies about harassment in the Catholic Church and, in a way, we don’t know what to expect of them anymore. “The Boys of St. Vincent” is one movie which depicts the subject in a very graphic way, and others could be “Deliver us from evil” or “The Magdalene Sisters”. One could argue that the last one is not specifically about sexual harrasment, since it covers child abuse in the care system handled by the Church. One thing that all these movies have in common is a graphic portrayal of the abuse and its victims/perpetrators. “Spotlight”, Oscar nominee in 2016 is quite different in that regard. In this story, the focus is on the investigating reporters of “The Boston Globe” and their efforts to uncover the truth behind the alleged reports of sexual harrasment within the Catholic Church. Their findings are unexpected even by themselves, and the proportion of the abuse shocked entire world like a vawe.
“Spotlight” is a legitimate candidate for the best movie award, but it’s also a movie which will adress problems many Catholic countries in the world still face. In the communities which are primarly Catholic it’s difficult to pin anything to the Church because the clergy seems untouchable. Messangers of God can do no wrong is the mantra behind the passivity. Even when someone decides to talk there is always a possibility about being labeled as an enemy of the community or (at least) a Communist.
Film follows the investigating team of “The Globe” into the depths of cover-up within the City and the Church. Political schemes and threats are combined with the influences used by the responsible in the local diocese. Spotlight team has won The Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003 for their findings in the case. Movie about it was a matter of time. There was only a question of possibility to write a movie without overdoing it. Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy succeeded in just that. The script is fluent and believable and it’s particularly interesting to see bewilderment on the faces when the extent of the abuse is revealed to the reporters. That shock is not only theirs. It’s passed to the viewer like a torch, and I truly appreciate it.
It was evident from the start that ensemble gathered in this movie is doing a great job. Their characters needed to show all the shades of development necessary to make the a movie believeable. Mark Ruffalo was especially good, confirming that after “The Foxcatcher” and “The Normal Heart” he has potential to be one of the best actors of his generation. He could be on the road to win his first Oscar (Supporting Role) too. His partners Michael Keaton and Liev Schrieber also did a good job in their respective roles.
“Proceed with caution” could be written on the doors of the Globe’s reporters during their investigation into the Catholic Church. Film wonderfully shows the atmosphere about tackling huge, influental and multinational organization with such serious charges. Be warned, “Spotlight” isn’t just usual conspiracy movie. Events in this movie actually happened and that made “Spotlight” equally important within the genre as the movies about (for example) Watergate. Approach chosen by the screenwriters is different than the approach used in in any other film about sexual harrasment within the Church. Here, the abusers and the victims are mentioned in plural. We don’t actually see any of the abuse on the screen. All we CAN see is the case through the eyes of the reporters and that, trust me, doesn’t make it a bit less disturbing than any of the graphic portrayals of the abuse I’ve seen earlier. To do so just through investigative journalism is an achievment worth of an Oscar for original script.
It’s really fun to say that considering that “Spotlight” is not McCarthy’s first experience with investigative journalism and the controversial subjects. Fans of the cult David Simon series “The Wire” will know that there McCarthy played morally dubious journalist Scott Templeton (Season 5). When I saw “Spotlight” I wondered on which storytelling style it reminded me on. Then it all clicked. It was Simon’s style. Half-documentary, realistic style used in the movie, which made the it so awfully (and briliantly) convincing is defenitively something that the director took from David Simon and made his own. It’s another reason for compliments.
The music of Howard Shore also contributes to the atmosphere of the movie. Atmosphere which isn’t, as some would expect, heroic or exonerating. No, the characters are deeply distressed, all seems bleak, and their massive dissapoitment can be felt. The only character which really shows anger on the screen is Mike Rezendes (Ruffalo) in a discussion about the course of action the newspaper should take.
I won’t reveal anything new if I say that “Spotlight” will offend some people, while other will exaggerate and say that Catholic Church as a whole is consisted of pedophiles, abusers and liars. Without participating in such discussion, movie shows that something needs to be changed within the Church if the common perception is of any value to it. For that, the Church would need to become less ideological and more critical toward itself, and I don’t see that coming any time soon.
I intentionally left Rachel McAdams for the end. Dialogue between the two members of the family, one believer and one a reporter, is very important for the understanding of the movie. Depths explored by screenwriters are as close to personal and intimate beliefs of the individuals as they can be. Thus, it was important to show that “Spotlight” is a movie based on a true, well documented event; and that it is not made tenaciously. McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer did that in style. Her conversation with an aunt, and final revelation when the case is published, says more about the “genuine psychiatric phenomenon” of clerical abuse than any words could. After the “True Detective”, McAdams played very sensitive role in “Spotlight” and confirmed that she’s evolving as an actress. Personally, I’m impatient about her next project. Oscar? Not yet, Rooney Mara and Jennifer Jason Leigh are simply too good this year.
Nevertheless, everybody involved in production of “Spotlight” deserve praise. It’s difficult to make a film about controversial theme which will stay completely objective and founded by facts instead of emotions. Emotions of “Spotlight” are produced and not fabricated. That’s its greatest value and the reason why, all controversy aside, it must be seen. Repeatedly.