MOVIE REVIEW: Spotlight (2015)

Spotlight (2015, US)
A film by Tom McCarthy

Spotlight reserves its horrors in the dark realms of its subject matter: a controversy that has long since been known to the people involved—the culprits and the bodies that protect them, the victims and their silenced families and friends—that even if everybody in the almost-strictly Catholic city of Boston knows that something wrong was going one, no one puts a foot forward to do anything until the spotlight is rightfully showered to break the truth and break the silence.

Featuring a memorable ensemble that makes up the Spotlight investigative team at Coolidge Corner in Boston, the movie boasts itself with a loud statement that does not need any grand scenes to highlight its characters one after another. It just lets itself flow as how it did in 2001, with the real story being unearthed piece by piece and ultimately put together in one concrete report that sum up allegations of abuse in what seems to be a highly-trusted institution: the Roman Catholic Church. Thrilling as it should be, it remains on a plateau of emotion, jumping on its place whenever needed to give tension that is restrained and believable.


There could have been confrontations here and there, thrown in with some dramatizations of the pedophilia scandals, but the movie solely obliges into giving the bird’s eye of the journalists that are more than eager to unravel the mysteries. The movie, as helmed by director Tom McCarthy, simply chooses to go into a different path which makes it all the more engrossing as how rooting for justice should be existent. One way or another, in the process of gathering all information and converting suspicions into breadcrumbs left by the abusers and their backups, the revelations are satisfying enough to justify the slow buildups and the minimalist voice embedded into the dialogues penned by McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer.

The investigation starts with one curious action with further focuses on the larger picture it actually is. When a new editor by the name Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) is hired in the The Boston Globe, he meets Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) who leads a small group of journalists who spend months of investigative research before publishing controversial, eye-opening articles.

The idea of pushing the investigation forward comes about after Baron reads an article revealing that the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, had prior knowledge but took no action on the child sexual abuse committed by the priest John Geoghan. Right then, Journalist Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) gets in touch with the source of this essential information: a lawyer named Mitchell Garabedian who is at first hesitant to accept an interview until he is told—in spite of the team’s protocol not to do so—that Rezendes is on the Spotlight team.

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From what appears to be an investigation centered on a single priest who was mysteriously transferred a lot of times with the designation of being on sick leave, a pattern is revealed indicating that there are several Catholic priests in Massachusetts who sexually abused children during their terms. In fact, the Boston Archdiocese has its own scrupulous ways to cover things up. From one, the figure is raised to thirteen priests and ridiculously totals to eighty-seven.

In order to prove their claim, the Spotlight team contacts the victims one by one, painstakingly bearing the stories that are equally heavy as merely hearing them straight from the horse’s mouth. The movie puts a finger on human sensibilities and its power to feel, look back and anticipate repercussion. Moreover, it touches the scandals with meticulous fingers that are meant to uncover and not to be biased on any party concerned. In one arresting scene, journalist Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) walks into the doorstep of a retired priest who happens to be accommodating enough to answer her spot-on question if he has ever molested a child. As these particulars are weaved together, there is no denying how torturing it is to dig deep into the dirt of the Church just so to face the truth overpowered by no less than power itself.

There is no flashback to support the parts that the team discovered, most especially in light of the historical notes. Indeed, it is such a strong point of the movie inasmuch as veering away from the conventions of drama and straightforwardly resorting to the beauty of being keen to the details of the very probe. There is this fright inside Matt Carroll (Brian D’Arcy James) knowing that an allegedly abusive priest included on the long list in fact his neighbor. Distressed, he puts on a note to remind his kids to stay away from the house of the priest.

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Harmony is marred as psychological dysfunction hysterically spreads albeit quietly among the community. There is also this notion that the decade-old controversy, which could actually date back up to century-old tales of hearsay and unproven arguments, will in due course gear for a domino effect. There are small moments in which the team just stares blankly at kids playing on the streets and young singers of a choir, reminding them that the future is at stake including the holistic being of their children—our children—as well what could have been the effect, knowing that the abuse can happen to basically anyone.

After the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, the team regains their drive especially after discovering the evidence pushing on Cardinal Law’s knowledge on the matter and ignoring it. With more legal documents opened, they start to write the report for publishing in early 2002. When they are ready for printing, Robinson admits that he is the recipient of the list of 20 pedophile priest back in 1993 on which he did not follow up. Even so, Baron reaffirms the team that they are doing a good job, let alone essential to the world. Later on, this report is awarded a Pulitzer Prize for the bravery of the coverage.

The haunting music plays on and reverberates to the senses. The story closes with the onset of survivors calling in to tip their stories to the Spotlight team. Through confessions and testimonies, the Boston Globes is able to publish almost 600 stories about the scandal. This leads to the public accusation on hundreds of priests and brothers for having allegedly abused children within the Boston Archdiocese. In Boston alone, there are more than 1,000 survivors. On its last few endnotes, the movie runs a list of places in which major abuse scandals have been discovered. Not much to our surprise, the list includes familiar places: Bontoc, Cebu City, Manila, Naval and Tubay, all of which are from the Philippines.

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