Movie Review: Spotlight

Sarah Groustra, Staff Writer
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On Jan. 2, 2002, the Boston Globe Spotlight news team published an article revealing a sexual abuse scandal that hit close to home for many of its readers–the offenders were all officials in the Catholic Church and had molested hundreds of young children for years. The new movie “Spotlight,” directed by Tom McCarthy, aims to illuminate the importance and challenges in uncovering the layers of this troubling story. The movie was dramatic, while still strongly based on fact, and delivered the facts of the widespread abuse with startling frankness. However, the film showed the emotional struggle of both the reporters and the victims respectfully and gently.

The movie followed the investigative news team, Spotlight, as the five-person team slowly uncovered and published a story regarding repeated incidents of priests in the Boston area taking advantage of young children, mostly boys. A new manager and editor from Miami, Marty Baron (played by Liev Schriebner), incites the interest on the story and remains loyal to the team despite many adversities. Baron’s intensity was a strong contrast to Michael Keaton’s character, Walter “Robby” Robinson, the editor and manager of the Spotlight team. Robinson’s dry wit often eased some of the tension for the audience.

A notably bleak, washed-out color scheme consisted of muted greys and browns conveyed the seriousness of the situation to the audience. Also, many scenes were actually filmed in Boston, so shots of the Old State House, the Globe building, the skyline and smaller gestures such as the Styrofoam cups of Dunkin’ Donuts on the desks, made the film feel especially personal for local moviegoers.

While many cast members, including Keaton, Schrieber, John Slattery (of the television series Mad Men) and Stanley Tucci (of Hunger Games and Devil Wears Prada fame) are already notable, the most moving performances came from lesser known names. Rachel McAdams played Sacha Pfeiffer, a journalist on the Spotlight team, and brought a strong female presence to the otherwise male-dominated cast. McAdams has clearly matured as an actress since her days in Mean Girls. Similarly, in one of his first major film roles, actor Michael Cyril Creighton gave a moving and haunting performance as Joe Crowley, a gay man who was molested by a priest at a young age.

Spotlight tactfully explores the question at the heart of this story–how individuals react or cope when their faith is challenged. Characters, either victims or Spotlight team members themselves, undergo spiritual transformations throughout the film. In a key scene, Sacha Pfeiffer reveals that she stopped going to church with her grandmother now that she knew what truly happened among the clergy. In turn, the writer Michael Rezendes (played by Mark Ruffalo) reveals that he hoped he would go back to church someday, but now doesn’t know if he ever will. A victim of the pedophilia, Phil Saviano, played by actor Neal Huff, explains that he couldn’t get out of the situation in time, asking, “How do you say no to God?”

The film ends informing the audience that Cardinal Bernard Law, who attempted to cover up the Boston scandals, was appointed as a Cardinal Priest in Rome. The film then states that over one thousand abuse victims remain in and around Boston, then cuts to a disturbingly long list of cities all over the world where similar abuse cases were discovered following the Boston Globe’s dramatic reveal.

Despite its slowness at times, Spotlight successfully charters the tricky waters surrounding the profanity of the scandal, and celebrates the efforts of deep investigative journalism. There is no sugarcoating or happy ending to the film, which instead continues to provoke powerful conversations about the horrifying events that will be kept secret unless someone is not afraid to ask questions.