Sadly, in today’s world stories about paedophilia in the Catholic Church are nothing surprising. Comedians casually joke about it and we all shake our heads in disbelief when another scandal hits the headlines. But what of the people who first brought these issues to our attention? This is the story Spotlight tells.
In 2001 four journalists working for spotlight, an investigative unit in The Boston Globe, researched a story on the alleged sexual abuse of a child by a Catholic priest. But what begins as a single case soon erupts into a major scandal involving over 90 culprits within Boston’s Catholic community and it is not just the Church that has been keeping these attacks secret for over thirty years.
Spotlight is as much about journalism as it is about child abuse and this world is shown in all its unglamorous fashion; characters sit in dull offices wearing shabby clothes and drinking cheap coffee. However, it is the latter that provides the film with its soul.
It is through the testimonies of the ‘survivors’ that we experience the true horror of this story. Spotlight approaches each of these characters respectably; presenting them as intelligent, strong-willed individuals instead of reducing them to a blubbering mess. They calmly discuss the details of their abuse, making its horror all the more distressing. In one particularly upsetting scene, two young children are seen happily playing in attorney Mitchell Garabedian’s (Stanley Tucci) office as he informs spotlight journalist, Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) that one of them was abused just two weeks ago.
Each member of Spotlight’s talented ensemble cast delivers a brilliant yet understated performance. There are no awards-pinning egos on display here which prevents the film from slipping into overly-cliqued Oscar-bait. We delve into the lives of the four journalists just enough to know how the scandal affects them personally, without drawing attention away from the story that is unravelling before us.
The question Spotlight asks us upfront is ‘how could such a scandal be hidden for thirty-four years?’ But as the journalists discover the extent of the cover-up, they begin to wonder how they missed such a scandal that was passed right under their noises. As one victim yells ”I sent this to you five years ago!”.
Spotlight may drag in places, but the intensity of its story sucks us in and leaves us all with a slightly different perspective of the world, and ourselves.