I don’t say this about a lot of films, but this time the moment feels right: Hoooleeey shit. There are a couple of films out there which question faith in the typical way (global crisis, alien invasion, zombie attack, Toy Story, etc.), but few directly question faith on the matter of unethical ignorance. Worst of all, Spotlight’s story originates from true events. Chances are if you’re old enough to pay for this movie ticket, you probably remember these events erupting out of the media like a fire in an ant hill.
Spotlight recounts the Boston Globe’s 2001 investigation of sexual abuse among Catholic priests and their underage parishioners. Spotlight itself is a special faction of the Boston Globe newspaper that operates by two rules: investigate thoroughly and keep it classified. Its team consists of four members: editor Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton), and reporters Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). They stumble into their 2001 investigation when their new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), requests a story that will interest and engage more readers. Marty sure can pick ‘em. Spotlight dives into the investigation, interviewing victims, lawyers, and anyone else involved. While the Spotlight team may be accustomed to working on secret cases, the importance of confidentiality increases as their investigation digs deeper. It turns out that the accusation of a Boston priest molesting a young boy isn’t limited to just one priest – and certainly not to just one boy.
Every step of the investigation uncovers increasingly shocking evidence. Just when you think this is the worst thing you have ever heard, a source pulls through and the situation gets ten times darker. The ball drops, the room stills, and the guy on speakerphone says, “Are you still there?” This is a repeated occurrence. The story keeps building until Spotlight’s greatest threat is that another newspaper might jump the gun and publish a weak story, revealing their investigation to the Church who will undoubtedly bury it. The Spotlight reporters care so much about getting justice for the victims that (in true Hollywood fashion) their personal relationships, sleep patterns, and faith in humanity all suffer. However, (unlike true Hollywood fashion) we only get hints of these effects. Spotlight doesn’t include any spousal shouting matches or dramatic epiphanies in the rain; the story itself carries enough shock and awe to make classic gimmicks completely unnecessary.
This is definitely not to say that the acting is bland. Sweet Moses, no. Every actor in this film nails it. They vocalize the shock and disbelief that’s plastered across my face. The Spotlight team asks just the right questions with just the right amount of pressure and compassion to make sure that, when finally written, their story will inform the public in the right way. The term “delicate situation” was designed for situations such as these.
A special shout-out must be given to Mark Ruffalo. While it’s true that my uncle looks more like reporter Mike Rezendes than Mark Ruffalo does, Ruffalo manages to piece together a character that is passionate, perseverant, quirky, opinionated, and loyal. He literally runs down leads and works his reluctant sources until they want to spill the beans. Ruffalo, along with Keaton, McAdams, James, and Schreiber, navigate their characters with a personal edge, making it feel like the evidence affects each one in a unique way.
Spotlight is what a good movie should look like. I wanted it to go on forever. After the first few introductory minutes, however, I have to admit I had my doubts. So many names are thrown around with rushed explanations, and it’s easy to feel lost concerning who did what and who should be in jail for it. Spotlight is definitely a film you have to watch a few times to catch all the information – but it’s a film I want to watch a few times for just that reason.
The tension builds in Spotlight like the moment two passing trucks box you in on the freeway; they slowly creep up until you have no way out but forward or back. This film has plenty of shame to go around, and is a perfect example – much like homework – that ignoring an issue won’t make it go away. Spotlight is absolutely a 10/10 that I will happily revisit.