Release date: 29th January 2016/Watch the trailer here
Spotlight is a film based on the true story of how a group of journalists at the Boston Globe uncovered a massive child abuse scandal within the local Catholic Archdiocese. The film chooses to focus more on the journalism aspect and the Spotlight team’s investigation than the actual abuse itself, meaning it’s not as grim as it has the potential to be, but it’s still an upsetting subject and not an easy watch by any means. You’ve been warned.
Having now seen seven of the eight Best Picture Academy Award nominees (I’m still yet to watch Brooklyn), I can safely say that Spotlight is comfortably up there with the best of the bunch, in part due to a fantastic ensemble cast made up of some of the most talented actors around today.
It is this cast – Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Stanley Tucci, et al – that helps to make Spotlight gripping for a full two hours when really, it is a film that, for all intents and purposes, should actually be rather dull. Despite the morbidly fascinating subject matter, Spotlight is essentially 128 minutes of talking, note-taking, spreadsheets, filing cabinets, photocopying, phone calls… and that’s pretty much it. On paper, it shouldn’t be able to hold your unwavering attention throughout its entirety – but it does.
2001. The ‘Spotlight’ team at the Boston Globe newspaper focuses on time-consuming long-running investigations, and they’re feeling the pressure as new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) takes over, looking to make some cuts to the more costly sectors of the Globe’s workforce. He enlists the help of Spotlight with a new investigation into claims of child abuse by Catholic priests that the hierarchy supposedly knew about and covered up for decades. Nowadays, this is more or less common knowledge, but fifteen years ago, in a largely Catholic city where the Church was – and still is – revered, these claims were shocking and unbelievable, as were the insinuations that there had been a massive cover-up.
Writer and director Tom McCarthy succeeds in making each shocking discovery into the full extent of the scandal that the Spotlight team uncovers (thirteen accused priests soon spirals into ninety) just as shocking for the audience, despite our prior knowledge. Keaton’s Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson, Ruffalo’s Mike Rezendes, McAdams’ Sacha Pfeiffer: they are all equally horrified – Ruffalo, increasingly passionate as the investigation continues, finally exploding with believable anger – as the truth behind the allegations unfurl, and we share their stunned disbelief as abuse survivors come forward to share their stories, each one more unsettling than the last.
The horror of Spotlight is not just the ghastly actions committed by the men trusted by an entire community and the way in which the Church allowed the abuse to continue, but the role in which the courts, the lawyers, and even the media played in covering up the scandal. The Spotlight team share a sense of the responsibility and guilt as they realise that, more than once, a hint of the crisis was right beneath their noses, yet it took the presence of an outsider to make them finally realise.
Given its subject matter, Spotlight is far from lighthearted, but it succeeds in being more tense and gripping than your typical action movie; its chases and explosions are emotional and occur beneath the surface, rather than physically happening on-screen.
However, by far the most horrifying moment of Spotlight occurs right at the very end of the film. The closing title cards, set to deafening silence, left the entire cinema audience shocked into muteness for a good thirty seconds or so, rather than the usual clamour for bags and coats and leftover popcorn. Forty-eight hours later, and I’m still shocked.
Spotlight: more gripping than your average action movie, and more frightening than your average horror.