SPOTLIGHT is the dark horse of the Oscars, a film that is raved about but hasn’t been heavily promoted in Australia and I am stoked to be watching it tomorrow morning. One friend in the industry adamantly advises it is the best film of 2015 and Kernel Morgan, who reviews it for you, confirms by scoring this movie a perfect 5/5 Pops. Just look at the superlative poster below, basically the “please vote for me package” for the Oscars in one page. I have faith in my two friends and a cast that makes me salivate. SPOTLIGHT is out now from our friends at Entertainment One Australia, it is rated M and runs for 129mins. Enjoy Morgan’s review…….all the best…….JK.
BY MORGAN BELL
You might think you know this story, but you don’t. You might think you don’t want to hear any more about this topic, but you do. The central message will stick with you long after the credits roll: If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse a child. It is the ethical dilemma that keeps us all up at night, when an individual commits a bad act how much is society culpable? As the Edmund Burke quote goes ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’.
SPOTLIGHT follows reporters at The Boston Globe as they uncover the Boston Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal of 2001-03. The investigative journalism department of the newspaper is called the ‘Spotlight’ team. They are led by Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton, BATMAN, BIRDMAN, BEETLEJUICE), with other members of the small close-knit team being Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams, SHERLOCK HOLMES, THE FAMILY STONE, MEAN GIRLS), Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo, SHUTTER ISLAND, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, IN THE CUT), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James, ADMISSION, GAME CHANGE, GHOST TOWN). The team investigates larger issues or scandals that take months to research, then they publish a series of ‘Spotlight’ articles within the main paper.
SPOTLIGHT is written and directed by Tom McCarthy (THE VISITOR, WIN WIN, THE COBBLER), with Josh Singer (THE WEST WING, LIE TO ME) as a co-writer. I am bewildered as to how this film did not snag a screenplay nomination at the Golden Globes – the winner, STEVE JOBS, by fellow WEST WING writer Aaron Sorkin, being an underwhelming and repetitive fail at replicating the incredible writing of his masterpiece THE SOCIAL NETWORK – however it has been acknowledged as a nominee for the Oscars in the category of ‘Writing (Original Screenplay)’ and it would be a travesty if it didn’t romp it in. It is the writing that really makes this film.
We meet the ‘Spotlight’ team at a time where a Jewish outsider, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber, MENTAL, DEFIANCE, SCREAM), has been brought in as the new boss. As a new set of eyes to an old situation, Marty questions why a recent pedophile priest scandal has not been investigated by the staff. Head of daily news, Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery, MAD MEN, CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR, MONA LISA SMILE), is reluctant to pursue the issue. Bostonians are primarily Catholic and almost everyone who works at The Globe was raised Catholic. There is a cultural barrier that prevents the people of Boston from questioning or challenging the Church.
A sub-plot that arises during the investigation of the Church is that on multiple occasions evidence of settlements and victim statements were sent to The Globe by sources and the information appeared to have been buried or lost. This propels the storyline forward in a whodunit fashion. We want to know if the paper has a mole or some kind of insidious Church agent within its ranks. Slattery gives a fine performance as a morally ambiguous character. It is clear he doesn’t want the Church scandal to be true and is torn by his duty as a journalist.
The real star of this film is Keaton. As the leader of the team, with the most age and experience and contacts, he is often the one that enters into verbal confrontations with sources. There is an excellent scene where he challenges the leaders of his former school regarding a priest who used to work there. As an alumni they expect Keaton to keep things quiet. He asks if they played a sport when they were students at the school. One says football, Keaton says he did athletics, then says the victim he was speaking to earlier played hockey for the school. The pedophile priest was the coach of the hockey team, and that’s reason he was victimised instead of either of the two men sitting in the meeting room. It is a powerful moment.
Keaton accuses Eric Macleish (Billy Crudup, STAGE BEAUTY, BIG FISH, ALMOST FAMOUS), a lawyer for abuse victims, of creating a cottage industry by settling civil suits instead of reporting the molestations to the criminal justice system. The men are in a verbal showdown about ethics and responsibility. From these conflicts larger truths are revealed. When Keaton asks Jim Sullivan (Jamey Sheridan, HOMELAND, THE ICE STORM, THE STAND), a lawyer for the Church, to confirm allegations as an anonymous source, there is another clash over who knew and who didn’t take action to find out. At one point Keaton realises how many people have always known this was going on – eighty-seven known pedophile priests within the Boston area – and later he has to do some soul-searching about how he was able to exist with his head in the sand.
Ruffalo (nominated for the Oscar for ‘Best Supporting Actor’ for this role) spends the majority of his time negotiating with lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci, THE HUNGER GAMES, BURLESQUE, THE LOVELY BONES), who has represented victims of alleged child sex abuse involving the Church. Ruffalo is soft but persistent and Tucci is evasive and defensive. It is a game of cat and mouse.
Schreiber is on-point solemnly directing the team to delve deeper and look for proof of systemic corruption rather than individual offenders. The investigation leads McAdams to a direct confession from an old priest who is certain the molestation is acceptable within the Church if done within certain constraints, and James to discover a ‘rehabilitation’ home for pedophile priests within his own neighbourhood.
Much of the statistics and raw facts used in this film are the kind of thing we saw in the documentary film DELIVER US FROM EVIL. The abnormally high percentages of pedophilia within the priesthood, and the practices of moving priests from parish to parish without ever removing them from where they could harm children. Where SPOTLIGHT distinguishes itself is in broadening the ethical questions to the wider community, the people and organisations that are outside of the Church but co-exist with it and are inextricably entwined with it. People with a nanna who goes to Church three times a week that they don’t want to disappoint. Business leaders that desire a good relationship with Church leaders. Lawyers, journalists, teachers. Anyone can turn a blind eye, and this is what happens when everyone does.
Kernel Morgan is an author of short fiction, an anthology editor, and a technical writer. Her books include SNIGGERLESS BOUNDULATIONS and SPROUTLINGS. She enjoys scowling at children and bursting bubbles. She can be tweeted at @queenboxi
** All images courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor/publisher – credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.