if you want to understand the process by which four investigative reporters - each with his/her own expertise - function as a team working for the “Spotlight” unit of The Boston Globe’s newspaper in 2001, exposing what will become a Pulitzer Prize (2003) winning probe of the Catholic Church’s furtive silence and the Boston Archdiocese’s cover up of pedophile priests who molested guileless young boys and girls in their Massachusetts’ parishes, see the movie SPOTLIGHT, a docudrama written and directed by Tom McCarthy. A film that is not histrionic in its presentation, but slowly and methodically builds a case which unearths the horrific breach of trust between “believers” and those who are anointed as their spiritual sentinels in the secular world. The aftermath of the newspaper’s disclosures reverberated beyond its local sphere of examination into an international autopsy exhuming shame and dishonor upon the Church and its leaders.
SPOTLIGHT opens with a feeling of tension; we sense the apprehension of a close-knit circle of reporters - the Spotlight investigative division of The Boston Globe - a small corps of journalists who focus on one important story oftentimes for over a year - when an “outsider”, Marty Baron (a self-possessed, beautifully understated performance by Liev Schreiber) is recruited from The Miami Herald to become their new Editor. Baron realizes the potential of Spotlight to substantially examine an issue and shifts their target unto a story that over the years had been buried deep into the paper, occasionally surfacing to be interred again - eruptions of accusations appearing in print expeditiously extinguished. Marty Baron understands the need to look at the Institution itself - not just pinpointing individual perpetrators and victims, but examining the Catholic Church and its powerful influence on other authoritative organizations in predominantly Irish Catholic Boston, well aware that there will be attempts to stifle any exploration that cuts deeper into the skin of corruption.
The meticulous and disciplined search for the “truth” of a story involves interviewing victims now in adulthood, who reveal lacerating facts on their loss of innocence at the hands of the very people they trusted most to protect them - a spiritual shock as well as a physical one. Sacha Pfeiffer (a non-glamourous Rachel McAdams who is turning into a wonderful actor) conducts many of the painful interviews excavating devastating memories - her empathy and concern are both convincing and authoritative. One weeps for the hidden secrets that are divulged and the overwhelming feeling of powerlessness that these young people must covertly endure.
Michael Keaton, who stars as Walter “Robby” Robinson, communicates through expressive facial nuance, and the hunch of his shoulders, the conflicted burden and courage that being leader of the Globe’s coverage exacts on his innate view of himself - an Irish Catholic member of the church; a man who rubbed shoulders with the Cardinal and other politically connected elite Church officials; a person who despite the distressing revelation that while he was Editor of the Metro Section years before - the glimmerings of this scandal were literally kicked underground into files gathering dust in the storage bins of the newspaper.
Mark Ruffalo, another terrific actor is frenetic as Mike Rezendes - a Spotlight columnist who is in constant motion, a whirlwind of physical movement - ascetic in his dedication to spending long hours following leads, questioning defense attorneys, ferreting out important documents, petitioning court papers, and at the same time imbued with an equally impassioned integrity in lifting the lid on this pressure cooker of deceit. I responded to his innate decency and inexorable belief in the need for Spotlight to yield a scalpel of precision in cleansing the fetid decades old duplicity of the Church.
The fourth participant of Spotlight is the numbers man, Matt Carroll, (Brian d’Arcy James,) an individual who makes sense of the mounds of accumulated data, once the stick has pierced the hornet’s nest. Carroll intuitively makes necessary connections and has the tough “unglamorous” job of putting fact to “fiction.”
SPOTLIGHT has an ensemble cast ie: Ben Bradlee Jr. (played by John Slattery of Mad Men fame), son of Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post Watergate scandal fame) supervises the Spotlight team; Stanley Tucci excellent as Mitchell Garabedian who is portrayed as a querulous, cantankerous attorney whose firm to date has represented more than 1000 victims and survivors of clergy abuse. In 2001 Garabedian played a pivotal part in The Boston Globe’s explosive revelations.
What sets SPOTLIGHT apart from other movies that dramatize political “cover-ups” is the directness and restrained tone of its presentation. There are no “deep throats”, midnight trysts lurking in the background, but rather a deliberate, efficient system of operation which slowly yields results that withstand legal scrutiny - conclusions backed by strong research that will detonate Institutional complicity and dissimulation - echoing around the globe generating further investigations like a chain of illuminations in a tunnel of obfuscation, lighting up the shrouds of darkness.