Spotlight: Light at the end of the tunnel

An engrossing paean to old school investigative reportage, Spotlight is a powerful assault on the business of faith and religion

Updated - February 19, 2016 08:29 am IST

Published - February 19, 2016 12:00 am IST

What makes Spotlight engrossing is its demonstration of the power of journalism.

What makes Spotlight engrossing is its demonstration of the power of journalism.

One of the best things about Spotlight is how it’s able to convey a bigger world than what we are actually shown on the screen. We hear about the wives and kids of the reporters but we don’t see most of them. We don’t see more than a couple of priests in a film that tells the story of how a small team of investigative reporters broke the story of Roman Catholic priests who molested children over decades and got away with it. Yet Boston comes alive through its sparsely populated neighbourhoods, its golf-playing elite folks, the Sunday morning church visits of the middle class elderly women and intimate portrayal of a handful of characters.

At one point, a character says that it’s not just a story for Boston but for America and the world. The film follows this line in cinematic spirit, leaving us shaken with a local story with universal resonance.

Spotlight , directed by Tom Maccarthy, who has co-written it with Josh Singer, shows the investigative reporting team from the Boston Globe uncovering of a scandal of systemic child abuse by Roman Catholic priests in the area in 2001. The decades-long cases have been hidden from public eye by way of an unholy nexus between the Church, the judiciary and government. The Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ team (said to be the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative unit in the United States) won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for the series of reports on the case.

The film is a powerful assault on the business of faith and religion. It hits us in the gut through the chilling retelling of the abuse by the survivors, now grown ups with families and kids, but scarred for life as the molesters’ punishments are “restricted to weekend duties while receiving some kind of therapy.” And how this shameful cover-up involves us all: the god-fearing communities, the charity fund-raising elite, the complacence that so easily engulfs journalists, the cops who can’t imagine taking on the Church. All of them doing their bit choosing to forget a story they all knew, let alone the government and the law.

Naturalistic acting

But what makes Spotlight as engrossing is its demonstration of the power of journalism. The change it can bring in. It shows the nuts and bolts of old school reportage behind a series of explosive stories that shook the Catholic Church. And it shows it in all its complexities: the biases and the politics in the newsroom, ego-fuelled editorial decisions, and stories hidden and lost in leads not followed up and finally, the time and space one needs to give a story to develop into a story that matters without the urgency of ‘we-first news breaks’. The acting is superbly naturalistic. The protagonists are humans with an itch to know the truth before they are journalists. They have journeys of their own. Mark Ruffalo’s Mike Rezendes is possessed with restless energy, either he is eating or drinking-on-the-go or jogging to work. A character with bull-headed journalistic vigour, his quiet moments are when he sees kids around him, his angst rooted in the loss of innocence of childhood. Or Rachel McAdams’ Sacha Pfeiffer’s relation with her Church-going Nana and her quiet empathy for her faith as she sees it crumbling in front of her on the breakfast table. But my favourite character is Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson, Spotlight’s editor, played by Michael Keaton. He has made mistakes in the past, has friends in high places but is ready to lose it all for the story. Others include Liev Schreiber as the new editor of Spotlight, Marty Baron whose unwelcome introduction to the team gives them their biggest assignment and Stanley Tucci as Mitchell Garabedian, the Armenian-origin lawyer who represented victims of the case, are superbly cast as well.

Spotlight is an important film, especially at times of cynicism around the profession of journalism. It is a non-showy paean to print reportage as much as it is a deeply affecting human drama.

Director: Tom McCarthy

Writers: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer

Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Live Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, Brian D’Arcy James

Runtime: 128 mins

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