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The Story Needed Spotlight

“If there were 90 of these bastards, people would know”. It’s not normal for me to start a review with a quote, but this quote captures what this movie aims to showcase. In 2001, The Boston Globe’s investigative journalist team Spotlight, took a deep look into the allegations of sexual misconduct of the catholic church in Boston. The result of this report, published in January of 2002 bought a harrowing truth to light. A scathing indictment to over 70 priests in the Boston area who were found to sexually abuse minors. The systematic attempt from the Boston archdiocese to cover it up.  The repercussions of this report weren’t just felt in Boston.  I was not raised a catholic, but I did attend catholic school in the Bronx NY for over seven years.  The Monsignor at my high school was charged of sexual abuse in 2002 for conduct in 1970s. The victim in question, got the courage to speak out because of the outcry from Spotlight’s report. This was something I was fortunately unaffected by, but I saw it’s effects first hand. From the steward supporters, who knew Mgsr. Kavanagh as a godly man, and the people who immediately held him in contempt. At it’s core, Spotlight is a real journalist movie. It’s subject matter is one of true intrigue and impact. It doesn’t get overly concerned with the characters because the story’s development is the actual star of the film.

The film begins with The Boston Globe welcoming a new chief editor in Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). Unlike most of the Globe’s staff, Marty is not from Boston. While his reception is luke warm at best, early in his tenure he catches wind of a story about sexual abuse by a priest. Considering this kind of story to be of high value for a local paper like the Boston Globe.  He gets the investigative journalist team SpotLight to take a closer look. Spotlight specializes in long and thorough investigations, often taking months to complete a single story.  The team, lead by editor Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson ( Michael Keaton ) and composed of reporters: Mike Rezendes ( Mark Ruffalo ), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll ( Brian d’Arcy James ). They soon come to realize the reported misconduct of the priest in question is only the tip of the iceberg. Not only, do they begin to discover more and more priest accused of the same crimes.  They discover the church is not only aware of the abuse, but actively covering it up. There findings reveal a systematic structure that is only concerned with protecting the church’s image and foothold within the city. A cover up that extends well past the city of Boston, to all different corners of the world. Victims and there families are encourage to keep the misdeeds under wraps. Under the false pretense that the situation was a rare occurence, and would never happen again.  However, the church would eventually circle the priest in question back into circulation at a different parish.

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Spotlight features an impressive ensemble cast. Characters tend to be overly dramatic or involved because directors don’t want to waste any of the talent. Refreshingly however, Spotlight never falls for this kind of trap. It is structured like docudrama about the vigors of investigative journalism. The main character of the film is in fact the story being reported. How the catholic church managed to keep such a large scandal under wraps for as long as it has. We are never given deep looks into any of the characters. Supplemental pieces are given so we kind of know who these people are. Whether that be going to church every Sunday with their grandmother, or going through some marital problems. The film gives us a frame of these characters, and lets the charisma of the actors fill the void. You don’t have to worry about the characters seeming or feeling hollow, you just feel like they are normal every day people. People who are good at their job and steadfast in their pursuit of the truth.

Director Tom McCarthy and cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi do some inspired visual work. Spotlight is very heavy on dialogue and as such they do a great job in varying angles and changing back drops to never feel stale. What I found to be most impressive was how Spotlight features a great deal of these wide shots. Shots that intentionally feature a catholic church in the background. The buildings almost seem ghostly, watching the events that unfold right before them. I thought it was a profound way to display just how much the church means to the Boston area. Enforcing the notion that they are everywhere you look.

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In the end, what you have is a very grounded look at investigative journalism. Tackling a topic that is close to home for a large demographic of people. Always keeping the story at the center of its narrative. It at no point becomes too preachy or too reserved. Choosing to highlight the importance of reporting on this scale and the integrity that accompanies it. The ensemble is so balanced, it will likely result in a couple of nominations but no actual trophies. Spotlight might be considered your standard Oscar bait kind of film. However, it sacrifices a lot of those moments (dramatic encounters, monologues, etc) for the sake of the narrative and I’m very happy it did.

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwdCIpbTN5g&w=560&h=315]

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