“Spotlight” is a gripping film about the Boston Globe newspaper investigation of clerical sexual abuse in Boston that began in 2001, 20 to 30 years after the crimes had been perpetrated.
The Catholic Church was a dominant institution in Boston and most of the staff of the Globe were Irish Catholics. A new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) comes into the paper. Unlike the other employees, Baron is Jewish.
Baron reads a Globe column saying the real truth on accusations of clerical abuse by Catholic priests in Boston may never be known. Documents have been legally sealed. Baron assigns Spotlight, the paper’s investigative unit, to explore the case. The Spotlight editor is Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton). The team includes Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). The large cast is exceptional. The actors skillfully personalize their real life counterparts. Ruffalo portrays the most passionate of the reporters.
The reporters realize the enormity of the enormity of their assignment, as they will in effect be suing the Catholic Church. To add comparisons to “All the President’s Men”, another newspaper investigative case, a Globe editor is Ben Bradlee, Jr. (John Slattery, “Mad Men”), son of the Washington Post editor at the time of Watergate.
“Spotlight” is fascinating as it shows all of the difficult and time consuming work involved in an extensive newspaper investigation. A strength of the film is in showing the importance of teamwork in Spotlight.
Sacha interviews victims of the clerical abuse, years after the crimes occurred. The scenes detailing the painful physical and psychological abuse are extremely powerful. Victims feel betrayed by their Church which suppressed evidence of the crimes. One victim says “It takes a village to abuse me.”
Suspense builds as other members of the team determinedly fight to gain access to legal documents that have been sealed by the courts and to use contacts to uncover the truth. Aided by a slick lawyer (Billy Crudup), the Church uses all of its formidable influence to prevent any exposure of clerical abuse and its cover-up.
Director Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent”), who co-wrote the screenplay, does a superb job orchestrating the different aspects of the newspaper investigation while keeping focus on the different personalities involved.
McCarthy appeared at an outdoor panel at the Telluride Film Festival with “Spotlight” actors Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams. The film was described as being experienced “through reporters connected to the community.”
Michael Keaton said that he loved having the “license to make things up as a kid instead of being a good student.” Like the “Spotlight” character he plays, he described himself as a “newspaper junkie”, always interested in the papers, who enjoys the physical movement of reading “2-3 newspapers a day.”
In more resemblance to the film, Keaton said he was ½ Irish Catholic. He said he was ambivalent about appearing in a film with a subject of clerical abuse as he had a “fantastic Catholic School experience” and is “still friends” with his fellow students. He added that to “see faith crumble” was “hard.”
On acting, Keaton said he follows the belief of Spencer Tracy to be “as true as you can” and to “show up and tell the truth.” He recently re-watched “The Producers” and described its author/director Mel Brooks as a “genius.” The star of “Beetlejuice” said that comedy has always interested him. He added that it may be easy to “overlook how unbelievable a weapon comedy is…why I’ll always love” comedy.
Tom McCarthy said that Spotlight member Sacha Pfeiffer did the interviews with victims of clerical abuse because she was the most empathetic of the reporters. He described Rachel McAdams who portrays Sacha in “Spotlight” as a “great listener”.
Rachel McAdams described “Spotlight” as a film that questions faith. In preparation, she spent a lot of time with Sacha Pfeiffer whom she described as a “generous woman” who was “insistent” that “language not be sanitized.” She said that Sacha had close relationships with survivors of Boston clerical abuse that still exist today.