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Guest Review: Spotlight

Friend of the site Henny McClymont shines a spotlight on the current Oscar front-runner.

A defender of the fourth estate once said “It is the role of good journalism to take on powerful abusers, and when powerful abusers are taken on, there’s always a bad reaction. So we see that controversy, and we believe that is a good thing to engage in.” In a time when many press agencies recklessly spout unresearched chunks of bile driven by political agenda, rare, responsible journalism should be celebrated. So it is with the Oscar tipped Spotlight.

The movie deals with the work of the investigative Spotlight team from the Boston Globe in the lead up to the publishing of their story, revealing that the Catholic Church was systematically allowing a large number of their priests to abuse children. The Globe’s story had a heavy impact on the church. Cardinal Bernard Law, the head of the Boston diocese, finally stepped down in disgrace, giving the statement, “To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness.” His “punishment” was a comfortable position in Rome, where he still lives.

Tom McCarthy directed and co-wrote with Josh Singer the story of Spotlight. It is a well crafted, well paced newspaper story in the vein of All the President’s Men, which shows how research was done – old school – before the maturity of web 2.0.

The movie has a great ensemble cast. There is the Spotlight editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), and the reporters, Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matty Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). There is also John Singer who plays the Globe managing deputy editor Ben Bradlee Jr. There should be at least one or two major award nods for Keaton and Ruffalo. The story starts to take shape as a new editor in chief, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), joins the Globe. His understated performance as a Jewish outsider provides a counterpoint to the mostly lapsed Catholic reporters.

This plot weaves a gentle implication that the more senior members of the Globe might have been involved in some prior cover up or at the very least fueling their Catholic guilt. What makes this film so Oscar worthy are the Spotlight actors, who keep the story authentic with a dash of suspense. They impart a real feeling of urgency to get the story out, while keeping true to journalistic ethics, striving for justice and maintaining an empathy for the victims.

The investigation brings the team face to face with the abused, now adults, who are mostly broken and traumatized, forcing themselves to relive their experiences though the retelling in the hope that the truth will out. Two lawyers, played by the excellent Billy Crudup and Stanley Tucci, deal with the abuse cases in contrasting fashions, one serving the corruption, the other trying to tear it down.

The Spotlight story revealed not only abuse on a massive scale, but sought to strike at the system not at the symptoms. The disembodied voice of a psychologist serves as exposition of the key theme of the movie, a question of the catholic church itself. Is celibacy really something a human being should be made to endure, simply to follow an outmoded rule set? By denying this basic human right, we push them to secrecy, to release the urge in an unspeakable way from a position of power exerted on the weak.

The Spotlight team had the strength to stand up to an archaic constitution that abused their power on the weakest. Their investigation gave the abused a voice. For that the team won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003. Let’s see how the 2015 team fare in this awards season.

Henny McClymont @GingerHenny


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