Based on actual events.
With Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Billy Crudup, Michael Keaton, Brian D’Arcy.
I don’t suppose that the city of Boston will be sending any love notes to Hollywood this year. First we had the Johnny Depp vehicle about Whitey Bulger, Black Mass. In that movie Boston looked grimy and corrupt, insular and ugly. The FBI was the source of dirty dealings. In Spotlight, the city is unduly influenced by an all too powerful Roman Catholic Church. In 2001, the Boston Globe’s special investigative unit had been researching the police department when a new publisher arrived. He would prefer that they investigate the Catholic priests accused of abusing children and why nothing was done to stop it at the higher levels. Why are the documents settling the cases sealed? Many have been charged, but none have been convicted. There is an alarming lack of follow through on the case. Even though it has been simmering for years, no one has taken it seriously enough to put together a coherent story.
In Spotlight, Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) is the bulldog reporter, hungry to find the guilty party trying to escape the reach of the law. He often runs to work, and hurries from place to place with relentless energy. Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) is the administrator who always wants more time to go deeper into a story. Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) is the dogged investigator who finds surprising incriminating evidence that implicates the newspaper itself.
Other characters of equal weight who can help bring the cover up of the Catholic Church to light include lawyers who have assisted the victims, including Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) and Eric MacLeish (Billy Crudup). Every real life workplace team should have such an A List of stars to play them in a movie.
Drama and suspense build on the very nature of the news cycle. How much time is too much time to investigate? When is it too late to truly help the victims of this scandal? How can you possibly trust someone whose job is to undermine your best client? How can you keep the story going when a massive news event like September 11 shifts everyone’s priority about what belongs on the front page?
The executive editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), incisively distinguishes between going after an individual and going after a system. It isn’t personal. It is justice the reporters are after. Along the way there are moving moments such as when Sacha’s grandmother must read the news report her own granddaughter wrote about the Catholic hierarchy, how we understand that uncovering the truth does not undo its grievous harms. Almost everyone in the news room was raised Catholic, so the discovery of negligence cuts at their very core beliefs, or what they thought they might count on at some future date, if they ever came back to the Church, having all lapsed.
In New York City, small Catholic parishes keep closing, and with them their schools. I cannot help but think that this is collateral damage of the billions of dollars the Church had to pay to victims of abuse that was hushed up for decades. Spotlight explores what we expect of our spiritual institutions, and how disillusioning it is when they let you down.