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Spotlight

It is a crying shame that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences doesn’t offer an Oscar for ensemble casts. Sometimes a movie requires a group of actors to contribute equally to a story, and if anyone starts chewing up the scene for their own aggrandizement, they just ruin the movie for everyone. Such a movie is Spotlight, and, I am glad to say, not a single one of a really stellar cast even begins to be selfish. Here the story, both in the film and of the film, reigns supreme.

And the story of the film is its biggest surprise, too. Everyone associated with the movie seems to know that it is much more about journalism—its practice and its ethics—than it is about the Catholic Church and its sins. The true story of the Boston Globe’s investigative team, nicknamed Spotlight, and its uncovering of the depth and breadth of the scandal surrounding the pedophilia practiced by some eighty-five priests in the Boston area alone and the concomitant covering up of this fact by the Catholic hierarchy, does of course paint a grim picture of the Church. But in the end, the story reveals that the well-known maxim, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” couldn’t apply more perfectly to this horrific situation.

Spotlight begins with a flashback to a Boston police station in 1974 where a Father Geoghan, accused by a mother of sexually abusing her children, is released without even an arraignment. Much later this case provides the basis in 2001 for the new editor of the Boston Globe, Marty Baron, played superbly by Liev Schreiber, to suggest that Spotlight try to get to the bottom of this since it appears that even the powerful cardinal, Cardinal Bernard Law, knew about the fact that Geoghan had been accused of pedophilia six other times, each time getting off. The movie follows the team of three men and a woman in search of victims, priests who will talk, lawyers who had something to do with the cases (whether on the victims’ or the church’s side), and even public advocates—some reasonable, some seemingly crazy—who have tried unsuccessfully to bring to the public’s attention how widespread and deeply entrenched the scandal is.

Michael Keaton, as Walter “Robby” Robinson, the editor and head of the Spotlight team, and the three actors who play investigative reporters Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carrol (Brian D’Arcy James) form the core of the cast, but Schreiber and John Slattery as editor Ben Bradlee, Jr. contribute enormously as well. The uncertainty of where the story lies, the editorial politics necessary with a major scandal like this, the reporters’ fears of being wrong, the demands upon their time—all these provide more than enough tension for the story to be thoroughly engrossing, but the pace replicates the plodding, interview-after-interview, doors-shut-in-their-face, false-lead-after-false-lead life that a reporter in search of a story leads. In the end, what the reporters find not only angers them at the Church but shines the spotlight into the legal and educational arenas of Boston, too, then causes them to take a hard look at their own profession and why it took them so long to discover this story.

Spotlight is about the sins of the Church, both through the sizable number of priests found complicit in the allegations of child abuse and through the leadership, which covered up the story in every way it could. Christians will be pleased, though, that the Church is not punished unduly in the film. I only hope they will get the point of the movie, which is this: if the spotlight were turned on your heart, what would it uncover that you know but have done nothing about? It is a question we should all take seriously and ask ourselves on a regular basis.

Drew Trotter

November 20, 2015

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