To say the Catholic Church is an institution in the City of Boston is a bit of an understatement. While the Church’s downfall in the city has been pronounced in the past several decades, mirroring the decline of Catholicism in America it America it seems, the Boston Globe put the nail in the coffin of the profound and pronounced influence of the Catholic Church in America. Their Spotlight team, one of the best investigative journalism teams in the world, had many scalps over the years.
Taking down the Catholic Church in Boston for decades of covering up incidents of priests and child rape might rank as their greatest accomplishment.
Spotlight follows the team (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James) through the whole investigation of the scandal. We get to see journalists in their element as the film takes a procedural approach to the ever expanding story. What starts as an exploration of a column by an incoming editor (Liev Schreiber) to his highly talented investigative staff, to see if there’s a further story about sex abuse and the Catholic Church, turned into a Pulitzer Prize winning series that wound up unleashing a cavalcade of allegations that broke open a worldwide scandal. The Catholic Church’s coverup of pedophilia within its ranks for decades wound up forcing a much larger (and still unresolved) conversation involving clerical celibacy to take place.
This is the only journalism film since All the President’s Men that embraces the grind that investigative journalism really is. There isn’t a smoking gun waiting to be found and an “ah ha” type of moment. Much like the BBC series State of Play this is a piece that is about the investigation itself. While it winds up shortening the process for time sake the one thing the film does exceptionally well is show how long a proper investigation like this really is. It doesn’t feel fast; this is a film with a deliberate pace that helps you feel the sort of grind something like this takes.
All the President’s Men is a good comparison film for this as they both cover similar angles to different stories. This is about the cover up and pursuing leads into the story no matter how unsavory it takes them. This is about pursuing what everyone says shouldn’t be pursued; we get a sense of dread whenever the Catholic Church is involved. They aren’t a stereotypical evil corporation needing to be taken down; the film wisely paints them away from the profoundly negative they could’ve. They aren’t comic book villains, twirling a mustache and tying young children to train tracks.
They’re trying to cover things up for what they think is the greater good, of Catholicism proper, and Spotlight focuses on the investigation into the cover up.
This is a film that makes you want the Academy to have a “Best Performance by an Ensemble” because it’s a series of really good performances but nothing profoundly great. Look for Michael Keaton in the Oscar race, especially after losing a year ago, but this is a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is a great cast that works exceptionally well together but there isn’t an amazing performance between them; just a lot of very good ones. It’s not a bad thing, as no one is too showy that it’s distracting.
Spotlight is the film that Truthposited itself as: the next great film about journalism.
Director: Tom McCarthy Writer: Tom McCarthy & Josh Singer Notable Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.