Film Review – Spotlight Shines on the Darkest Corners of the Catholic Church

‘If it takes a village to raise a child it takes a village to abuse one’‘. This is one of the lines delivered by an excellent cast in this recounting of a newspaper team uncovering child abuse in the Catholic church that is horrific both in its scale and effect. It serves too as a succinct thesis of how abuse was allowed to happen for decades in the city of Boston.

Spotlight is in Irish cinemas on Friday 29th January. -
Spotlight is in Irish cinemas on Friday 29th January.

Spotlight takes its name from an investigative team working for the Boston Globe. In 2001 they started turning stones for a clerical abuse story and discovered a vast criminal and sexual conspiracy. This, in itself, isn’t surprising but the sheer scale and manner in which institutions dealt with it is. As they dig deeper the story becomes much bigger and more appalling.

The cast are the main draw here and they’re near uniformly amazing. Michael Keaton plays our lead journalist. 2015 Keaton’s crinkled, pouting face seems to accentuate every doubt and ripple of emotion he has. It amplifies his squinty charm to the point where I’d happily watch him confusedly listen to tech support for two hours. His team includes a tenacious, buzzy spaniel of a man (Mark Ruffalo) and Rachel McAdams doing her stern and concerned thing. The supporting cast also features Liev Schrieber as the socially inept new boss. Schrieber uses just the right amount of comic skills to play up his character’s awkwardness while still feeling grounded. Stanley Tucci plays an equal parts amiable and grouchy lawyer that the team come to rely on.

Throughout, it’s the human details and moments that stand out. There are interviews with victims medicating themselves with heroin, recollections of a priest taking an interest in you feeling ‘Like God showing up’. At one point a team member realises that rapist priests are being housed on the road that he, and his children, live on yet he can’t say anything for fear of breaking the story. As ever, it’s not the juking of the stats but the human faces behind them that get you.

The investigation itself does drag a little during the second half. It doesn’t help that, even if we don’t know, we can reasonably guess the outcome. There is, however, an extra layer of blame apportioned towards the investigation’s end that gives the story a level of complexity and is genuinely surprising on a pure plot level.
This is a solid piece that never feels too worthy. It functions as an ode to old fashioned ‘proper’ journalism. The professionals ultimately will, or at least can, save us. Fun Trivia: The director, Tom McCarthy, played the worst journalist ever on season five of The Wire. He also came to directing this prestige film from his debut, The Station Agent  via helming an Adam Sandler movie. What a crazy career.

Given the subject matter the film will likely resonate with Irish audiences. It’ll make you thank your lucky stars that that kind of thing could never happen here. Thankfully we have impeccably moral institutions and a cool, new pope who seems sound even if he does refuse to change canon law demanding secrecy from clergy when dealing with child rape. Even when the UN have asked him to. Twice.

Spotlight  is in cinemas on Friday 29th January. Check out the trailer below.

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