S potlight is not, in any sense, an uplifting film-and probably not one ideal for Saturday night viewing, as I discovered. Then again, its subject matter is sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, so what did I expect?
It is 2001, and the Boston Globe newspaper has a new editor, Marty Baron (Live Schreiber.) Fresh from Florida, he doesn’t know the city, the culture or the paper. What he does notice is that the paper has failed to follow up on previously published column alleging abuse of 80 children. Spotlight, a four person investigative reporting unit, is assigned the case, discovering close to ninety priests who abused children in Boston alone. With 53% of the paper’s readership Catholic, covering the story in the first place is a bold move-even more so when to access vital documents, Baron decides to basically sue the Church. Can you even do that? According to Baron, yes, and they will.
It’s a remarkable story, yet I can’t help feeling the film does the investigation something of an injustice. What really doesn’t work is how Spotlight leaves no-one, no character, no organisation for us to root for. The closest thing to a hero is the Globe, but even then they were part of the problem. Documents detailing the abuse were sent to their offices twenty years earlier, yet were buried. Even in 2001, it took the arrival of a new editor to force them, somewhat reluctantly, to dig deeper.
it all seems matter of a fact, a film reporting on what has already been reported on.
With such a horrifying and serious subject matter, one would hardly expect Spotlight to be a walk in the park, but just how slow moving the story unfolds limits the narrative. Acting wise, the performances are good, with moments of greatness. A scene where Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) confronts his ex-boss. “I was doing my job” Sullivan claims. “Yeah, you and everyone else” counters Robinson. It’s a powerful scene, one that highlights not only the growing disillusionment with the church but how systemic a problem can become. In their reporting of the story, Spotlight must acknowledge their somewhat lapsed role in the story.
Although Spotlight’s investigation is published, with over six hundred articles on the abuse published in a one year period-a figure that truly made my jaw drop in disbelief-the film could have taken a leaf out of their book. When Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) doorsteps an accused priest, who admits the abuse, then adds “I was raped myself”, the moment is horrifying, even more so when Pfeiffer walks across the street only to see a group of children playing, unaware of their neighbour. Yet the priest’s story, of how the abuse became systemic, is never explored or revisited.
Is Spotlight a good film? Yes, almost certainly. But as an Oscar frontrunner, I expected more from it. Not necessarily answers, but more questions, more emotion, more feeling. In the end, it all seems matter of a fact, a film reporting on what has already been reported on.