Review by Deb Bennett
Nominated for six Academy Awards, Spotlight is a true-life movie that can be appreciated on many levels.
It tells the story of four investigative journalists (the Spotlight team) from the Boston Globe who, in the early 2000s, uncovered widespread child abuse, corruption and deceit within the Catholic Church in Boston.
Similar to 1970s classic All the President’s Men – the story of the Watergate scandal that brought down a president – we are privy to information as it unfolds in the newsroom.
The audience shares the shock of the team as they realise the magnitude of the cover-up, we cheer them on as they overcome bureaucratic hurdles and mirror their indignation as they confront the arrogance of power.
As we witness the inner-workings of a newsroom, we also get to know the people and, through them, the survivors. It is at this very personal level that Spotlight connects with the audience. As they listen to tale after tale of abuse, we see the toll it takes on the journalists, trained to remain professionally detached.
A strong cast ensures this is more than just a movie about the mechanics of good journalism. Michael Keaton is Spotlight editor Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson, a man who has grown up in Boston and even attended the Catholic school directly opposite the Globe office.
Rachel McAdams is reporter Sacha Pfiefer, a lapsed Catholic who still accompanies her beloved grandmother to at least one of the three mass services she attends each week.
Brian d’Arcy James plays journalist Matt Carroll. Throughout the course of the investigation, Carroll realises he lives just around the corner from a ‘treatment’ house for paedophile priests. Although he warns his children never to go near the house, he struggles with the guilt of not alerting other families for fear he will jeopardise the Spotlight investigation.
Mark Ruffalo portrays perhaps the most clichéd of the characters – Michael Rezendes is the scruffy newshound with dogged determination who occasionally bends the rules.
The adult survivors they meet carry the scars of the horror they endured as young children. For some, like the young drug-addicted father, the pain is visible in the marks of self-harm. For others, like the successful business man who was Robby’s childhood friend, the pain is hidden so deep it is all but forgotten – until with sickening clarity, it becomes real again.
Perhaps above all else, this is a movie about power. In the personal sense, it reveals the power of one individual (an adult) over another (a child). It explores the power of the press, not just in uncovering corruption, but in having the resources to choose who and what they investigate. And ultimately it is about the power of an institution.