Review: “Spotlight”

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Today, people across the world are all-too-familiar with the stories of child abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church. But back in 2001, these stories were largely unheard of. For the truth to be uncovered, it would take a team of dedicated, professional journalists.

The journalists in question were the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team, who investigate a story for weeks or even months at a time before running the article in their newspaper. The investigation team is made up of Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) and Spotlight’s editor, Walter “Robbie” Robinson (Michael Keaton).

Initiating the investigations is the Boston Globe’s newly-minted editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), who is curious as to why allegations of abuse in the Boston diocese were not followed up by the newspaper. What Marty doesn’t understand is that Boston is a predominantly Catholic community, and any such reporting could have serious repercussions for the Globe.

Keen to make an impression on his new boss, “Robbie” takes on the story on Spotlight’s behalf. Over the course of their investigation, Spotlight’s crew reveals something of a pattern – notorious Priests preyed upon young, vulnerable children, were arrested for their crimes but not charged, and moved on to other churches where they would continue to abuse children in the local congregation.

Those concerned that Spotlight is simply Catholic-bashing can be assured that this is not the case. The film, through its characters, makes clear that it has nothing against Catholicism, and is sympathetic towards the Church and its ideals. In fact, when it was first released in 2015, the Catholic Church endorsed the film through a positive review in L’Osservatore Romano, the official newspaper of the Vatican.

Spotlight is certainly a good movie, but not in the ways many would expect. It can be best described as a thinking man’s film, as the ethics of the journalists are constantly being explored. For example, there’s one scene where Matt discovers that a paedophile Priest is living in his neighbourhood. Should he warn his neighbours and risk leaking the Globe’s story, or should he hold his journalistic integrity and place them at risk?

The film also strikes a balanced tone. The stories of abuse are somewhat confronting, but not overly so – at no time does the viewer feel uncomfortable. While the film’s message is direct, it doesn’t feel heavy-handed in the way it is delivered. Occasionally, the narrative does become rather dialogue-heavy, but other than that there’s little worth criticising.

A worthy winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, Spotlight’s exploration of a potentially provoking topic has been handled with the utmost grace by both cast and crew. Thanks to their efforts, the film should continue to highlight the stories it tells for many years to come.

4 stars

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