The US was going through many changes in 2002. It had been several months since the attacks of 9/11, fear was at an all time high, and we were on the brink of war. In the midst of these things, The Boston Globe published an article calling out the Catholic Church of Massachusetts for its countless cases of child sexual abuse, which had been swept under the rugs to keep its name from being tarnished. It was a long road to uncovering the truth behind the case, documented here in Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, a movie so great that it makes you forget that this same director was behind The Cobbler earlier in the year.
Following in the vein and style of political thrillers the likes of All the President’s Men, the script by McCarthy and Josh Singer manages to wring a lot of surprising engagement and subtle tensions through all of its heavy facts and dialogue. This is particularly thanks to the subdued, yet powerful characters that populate the film, with McCarthy wisely avoiding putting them on pedestals as easy heroes, and simply as people who are just doing their jobs. All of them are excellently written and perfectly cast, and it’s through those characters where the film makes its mark as an actor’s movie. This is the definition of a proper ensemble piece, with each performer making their mark without taking attention away from the others, and they all play their parts so well that they end up disappearing into their characters. From Michael Keaton’s experienced and weary editor to Rachel McAdams’ empathetic journalist, the closest the film comes to a singular standout comes in Mark Ruffalo’s Mike Rezendes, whose own determination to see the story through tends to bring out the most heated of emotions in him, showcasing his disillusion with the Catholic Church.
In fact, that same disillusion appropriately makes its way into the overlying themes of the film. McCarthy and Singer work through the many complex facts and red tape of the investigation with a subtle feeling of paranoia and skepticism providing quiet thrills, analyzing the facts and the accusations with scathing attention to detail. Spotlight is a particularly alarming film in its analysis of not only the Archdiocese’s actions, as well as the trauma and suffering of the guilty priests’ victims, but of the intentional blind eyes that kept all of these crimes under wraps. There were many who saw these people as some of the most meaningful in their lives, even seeing them as heroes, so much so that many would be willing to ignore and push aside such negative ideas, even going so far as to infuriate the viewer of the countless injustices in all the best ways. From sequences like Brian James D’arcy’s Matt Caroll discovering that an accused priest resides in his own neighborhood, to the film’s ending title cards showing a list of parishes that have been the subject of accusations, it even generates some quiet terror of the all too real likelihood of these same things continuing to happen, helping make Spotlight one of the year’s most all around excellent films.
****1/2 / *****