At one level, this is a simple David and Goliath style investigative drama about brave journalism exposing evil. At another, it a brave expose of systemic corruption that was found deeply buried in the Catholic archdiocese of Boston in the early 2000s. While stories about child abuse are not designed for entertainment, this one is a highly engaging thriller about the Boston Globe’s specialist team called Spotlight that challenged one of the most powerful institutions on earth. Its linear plot-line unfolds gradually to let you share the discovery of the tip of a corruption iceberg that kept getting bigger and bigger.
The story itself is now global knowledge and countries around the world are still coming to terms with child abuse scandals that will take generations to remediate, forgive or forget. Spotlight uses the cinematic device of dramatic understatment to give viewers the emotional space in which to confront the enormity of the facts as they become known. This includes a slow narrative, a crisp factual script with little melodrama, actor authenticity with none of the five investigators stealing any limelight, and muted de-saturated colours to convey the rat-hole nature of investigative journalism. It is a small group of tenacious foot-sloggers in an old-fashioned hunt for truth, but they bring down the house of god armed with just facts and faith.
The larger moral tale beyond the film points to a primal human weakness seen repeatedly on a grand scale throughout the history of mankind: shamefully knowing but not acting. The passing mention of “good Germans” is one hint of the universal message. When the evidence piles up about offending priests, corrupt senior clergy, official cover ups, victim pay offs, hidden or re-assigned offenders who were free to re-offend, it becomes clear that entire communities turned a blind eye to what was happening. The church, schools, local government, and perhaps saddest of all, parents, chose silence to protect their faith.
When good people ignore evil, everyone is morally culpable. This film tells the story without dramatics and with respect for victims needing a voice. The revelations of Spotlight led to 600 cases being exposed and triggered hundreds of similar investigations that continue around the world. This film is a fine tribute to ethical journalism and its power to do good.
Director: Tom McCarthy
Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery