By Emma Sandler
The new movie “Spotlight” focuses on an investigative unit of the same name at The Boston Globe that uncovered in 2001 and 2002 the systemic Catholic priest abuse scandal. It involved about 70 local priests and more than 1,000 victims.
The reporting garnered the paper a Pulitzer Prize. The investigative team comes to life with an all-star cast of Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, John Slattery and Brian d’Arcy James. No one takes the lead or chews the scenery in this movie, which perfectly mirrors the collaborative efforts of the investigative team. It’s an ensemble piece in its finest form.
There is no glorifying or vilifying of journalists as vigilantes or upstarts in the movie. There are no romantic entanglements and few scenes look into the personal toll that these journalists endure throughout their investigation. It is a simple portrayal of the facts of the reporting, as they are known, with no embellishments—just as an actual journalist would write the script for accuracy rather than Hollywood drama.
What the film does so well is showing the strong ties the Globe and Boston in general had with the Catholic Church. Boston has historically been a Catholic city to its core since it became populated with Irish Catholic immigrants in the 1800s. Demonstration of this relationship shows up with references to the journalists’ Catholic upbringings as well their family ties. Editor Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (played by Michael Keaton) even makes an appearance at his Catholic alma mater Boston College, where a picture of John F. Kennedy, the only Irish Catholic president, can be seen hanging on a wall.
But the most poignant scene showing the relationships between Boston, the Globe, and the church is when reporter Matty Carroll (played by Brian d’Arcy) is home researching the locations of clinics used to “rehabilitate” child-molesting priests and suddenly jumps out of his chair and runs down the street. Jogging for only about 20 seconds, Carroll – a lapsed Catholic – stops and turns and the audience sees that one of the clinics is only a block away from him and his family. Afterward, he posts a sign on his refrigerator instructing his kids to, “stay away from this house and the men who live inside it.”
The film does not have many heart-pounding moments, except perhaps the scene where reporter Michael Rezendes (played by Mark Ruffalo) shouts at Robinson, “This is not just Boston. This is the whole country, the whole world. They knew, and they let it happen! It could’ve been you, it could’ve been me, it could’ve been any of us.”
Critical scenes have slow reveals like when the team initially estimates that there are as many as 90 child-molesting priests in Boston alone—the revelations are not epiphanies but subdued digestions of information. This is the deliberate aesthetic of director Thomas McCarthy (who previously directed “The Station Agent,” “The Visitor,” and “Win Win”) and cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi.
Everything about the scenery is slightly washed out. The beginning of the movie opens in the main newsroom where a retirement party for a veteran Globe reporter is taking place; the room flooded with fluorescent lighting and blank walls and barren stimulation populated by people wearing over-starched shirts reminiscent of Jerry’s wardrobe on Seinfeld.
But the modesty is also the driving force of what makes “Spotlight” different to other potential Oscar contenders like “The Revenant.” Whether the movie will win an Academy Award is up for debate, but the real story already won a Pulitzer. It will certainly be nominated for best picture, as it is a crucial reminder that Hollywood does not always have to be over the top or sensational to make a powerful film.