Spotlight
Director: Tom McCarthy
Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams
Duration: 129 mins
Class: 15
KRS Film Releasing Ltd

Spotlight casts its spotlight on the 2001 Pulitzer prize-winning investigation carried out by the eponymous team from the Boston Globe newspaper. It was a painstaking investigation that uncovered the abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church, forced the resignation of Cardinal Law, the Archbishop of Boston and whose repercussions are still being felt far and wide today.

It is 2001 and the Globe’s new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) has barely settled into his job when he persuades the Spotlight team to investigate further a column in the newspaper about a priest accused of having molested dozens of children.

As the team digs deeper, it becomes horrifyingly clear that this was not an isolated case of one rogue priest, but just one in hundreds involving dozens of priests. To exacerbate the matter further, it becomes clear that the Church systematically covered up these incidents.

Yet, despite the institution’s attempts to prevent the publication of the story, the Spotlight team doggedly worked at it to bring the truth to light.

Spotlight is a film that sturdily dramatises the true-life investigation with candour and few frills, Like its protagonists, the film is pernickety about presenting cold hard facts with the view of uncovering the uncomfortable truth. The film admirably resists the temptation to indulge in obvious or melodramatic church-bashing – many of the reporters themselves were raised Catholic and at moments are at pains to distinguish between the Catholic faith and the institution that represents it.

Moreover, it never presents the Spotlight team members as larger-than-life crusading heroes; they are just workaday reporters doing what their job demands – to provide a good service to their readers. They are not perfect, and the film does not gloss over the fact that these reporters were in a position to tackle the story earlier but didn’t. But they carry out their job professionally. Not that they do not get emotionally involved – having to listen to some of the harrowing stories told by survivors of the abuse was tough going. As the victims recount the confusion, insecurity and abject fear they all faced, one man poignantly observed “how do you say no to God?”

Captures the vibrant and heady pace of a newsroom and the urgency of the investigation at hand

Witnessing the investigation unfold is one of the pleasures derived from the movie. Director Tom McCarthy, working from a script he wrote with Josh Singer, captures the vibrant and heady pace of a newsroom, the urgency of the investigation at hand, with the pace slowing down enough in the right places for the story to unfold as the team builds up the story.

It is slow at first, as the team meticulously pieces all the bits together the old-fashioned way – by digging into the newspaper’s own archives or the public library and through a series of interviews with lawyers, victims and others. The latter include a well-regarded, former priest (turned psychotherapist) who offers some chilling statistical data which turned the initial investigation into the wide-ranging one it became.

While all this is going on, the far-reaching scope of the Church’s power and resources looms over them. Yet, on they went, while trying to fly under the radar. They were adamant not to publish until they were absolutely sure of every single fact, even running the risk of losing their scoop to rival newspaper the Boston Herald.

As the team equally shared the workload to bring the story to print, so does the cast who together make up a powerful ensemble with nary a weak link. Kudos to Schreiber’s quiet, unassuming Baron, the unknown quantity of an editor who spurred the investigation and Michael Keaton’s determined Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson, the Spotlight team’s editor.

Rachel McAdams earned an Oscar nomination for her performance as reporter Sacha Pfeiffer, whose compassionate and intelligent approach allowed many of the victims to trust her with their stories while Mark Ruffalo also gives an Oscar-nominated turn as Mike Rezendes, possibly the most passionate of the team, a man driven to right what he considered to be a tremendous wrong.

John Slattery’s forthright deputy editor Ben Bradlee leans on the team to get the story right, while Stanley Tucci creates another memorable character in Mitchell Garabedian, the slightly eccentric lawyer who fights relentlessly for the rights of the victims.

Spotlight has deservedly invited comparisons to 1976’s All the President’s Men, considered the standard-bearer for the genre. Like the Redford/Hoffman classic, Spotlight provides a couple of hours of intelligent, gripping and moving filmmaking that at once illustrates investigative journalism and celebrates it, reminding the viewer of its importance to society as a whole.