In a nutshell: A realistic and gripping dramatic account of The Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ investigative journalist team’s 2001 exposé of child abuse cover-ups within the Catholic Church.
Australian release date: Thu 28 Jan
The abuse of children by paedophile priests is, of course, old news. Ditto, the appalling response of the Catholic Church to merely move the offenders to new locations while seeking to cover up the atrocities by any means. This may diminish the drawing power of this mostly excellent film depicting 2001 investigations into the Church’s cover-up of child abuse by a team of reporters from The Boston Globe known collectively as ‘Spotlight’.
A pity, if that proves to be the case. The filmmakers have managed the difficult task of assembling a complex web of material and presenting it coherently, piece by piece, as clues in a detective story, while building dramatic tension and intrigue. Not so easy. There are no crooks with guns, car chases, fist fights, romantic sub-plots, untimely red herring deaths, or whodunit scenarios culminating in the star sleuth’s round-table reveal. We know who dun it – the question is how to get proof.
For the Spotlight team, that involved tedious and/or challenging behind-the-scenes research, such as digging through documents in public libraries and legal repositories, interviewing of victims shamed or legally corralled into silence, following paper trails to locate accused priests, and tirelessly working on convincing various gatekeepers to turn over secreted evidence to the public record, despite intervention and blocking at the highest levels by the Church and its lawyers. Hardly the stuff of riveting drama you’d think, but you’d be wrong.
Much of the responsibility for keeping the tension and interest up falls to the actors who make up the Spotlight team, and their boss (Liev Schreiber), who keeps upping the ante based on mounting evidence that cover-ups of child abuse and corruption within the Church is systemic and global, rather than contained to Boston. As the shocking scale of scandal is confirmed the stakes in breaking the story rise, placing ever more personal pressure on the reporters.
Fortunately, the classy cast is mostly up to the task, with Michael Keaton, Shriver and John Slattery the standouts. Mark Ruffalo is annoyingly mannered at times, and pushes too hard to the point of overacting.
It’s perhaps a bit of a stretch to accept that the efforts of the Spotlight team opened a Pandora’s Box on the priest child-abuse story world-wide, as is implied at the conclusion of the film. This is the only mark of Hollywood hyperbole in an otherwise highly realistic and authentic-feeling account of an onerous reporting mission. Indeed, the film serves as a timely reminder that dogged and fearless investigative reporting by skilled journos is as important as ever in the age of Twitter and self-styled amateur newshounds sounding off on blogs from their home computers.
Movie website: spotlightthefilm.com/
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