The premise of “Spotlight” is simple. It’s “All the President’s Men” only the institution being investigated is the cover-up of the child abuse in the Catholic Church. But whereas newspapers were arguably the dominant form of information for the average individual at the time of Nixon’s Watergate, newspapers today are losing prestige as digital media has taken over the world. “Spotlight” then is not only an excellent film, it is also a powerful reminder of the value of good investigative journalism.
The film follows the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe, a committed set of journalists who slowly uncover not one, not two, but 87 priests in the Boston area alone who have abused children throughout the years. Led by ‘Robbie’ Robinson (Michael Keaton), the team of Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), buoyed by incoming editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), must come to grips with the dark underbelly of their city of Boston and one of its most powerful institutions.
The film does not try to make heroes of its journalist protagonists. It presents them as human beings first, full of flaws with different backgrounds and histories, committed to uncovering the truth. What is important above all to the characters is the story and getting it published correctly, for if any detail is incorrect, the church can cover the whole investigation up for another generation.
The cast are all at the top of their game, showing both care and urgency as they deal with the survivors, the lawyers and the church. They are able to elevate the true thrill of the film: the uncovering of vital information that will confirm their story. As they attempt to seek justice for the survivors in the way they can, the audience roots for them in a very compelling manner. The fact that we know what has happened in real life only increases our desire for the team to learn and report the truth.
The style of the film is also very subdued and not very flashy, which works towards the film’s benefit. The focus is on the story, on the script, on the actors, and they are given plenty of room to breathe, to pull the viewer into the narrative and to let them experience the joys and hardships of working as a reporter. That connection gives real power to the film.
The movie does seem to end before the story is ultimately over, a decision probably based on needing to find some sort of closure for a case that is in some ways still unraveling. One can only imagine that what happens after the credits start to roll is just as fascinating and poignant, the sex abuse scandals still a relevant issue for a church that is trying to repair itself.
Newspapers have seen their share of public influence drop dramatically in the past few years, but their ability to elevate the hopeless, to bring light to important subjects and to topple the towers of industry should not be underestimated. “Spotlight” gives us an important glimpse into that world once again, a peek into a community of reporters and what they can do for justice.