Let’s be honest – Spotlight (2015, dir. Tom McCarthy), now being an Oscar winner for Best Picture, is a film you’re probably going to see at the cinema regardless of what any Joe Bloggs film reviewer is going to suggest. It has received a solid amount of acclaim and various golden trophies. But is it worth parting with your hard earned dollars to see at the cinema? Its synopsis is as follows:
The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core. (source)
The scandal of the abuse of children at the hands of senior figures within institutions such as the Catholic Church is an issue that has been occurring for a very long time. It is an issue that has been bubbling away behind the scenes, seemingly with many people knowing about it, with a lot of behaviour normalised and/or dismissed, and with the vast majority of perpetrators of sexual assault going unpunished for their crimes against children. This issue is particularly relevant in Australia at the moment, with a Royal Commission into child sexual assault in institutions occurring as we speak; with one of the country’s most senior Church officials giving his evidence and making a lot of people very angry. Spotlight seems to have come at just the right moment to bring further awareness to this issue, to let people know that this is a very serious and systemic problem that needs your attention.
Spotlight is very factual. It is analytical. It seems to go about its business like an investigative journalist writing an article on such a broad issue; using a funnel-shaped approach to first look at the bigger picture, then zone in on the specifics to reach its conclusion. When watching this film, and when being exposed to its superb script and storytelling, it does feel like you’re on the hunt for knowledge along with our journalistic heroes. But we learn as the story progresses that it’s not just people of authority in the Church that have let victims down, and that the people we know as heroes may have not protected children to the best of their ability either. Spotlight is multilayered. It’s a journey that drip-feeds information in such a rewarding way, bringing its viewers along on a quest for information, and ultimately justice for the many victims.
One of Spotlight‘s biggest assets is its ensemble cast. Mark Ruffalo appears to lead the pack with his passionate performance and increasingly amazing head-tilting as he interrogates interviewees of significance. Rachel McAdams is particularly good when she interviews victims, with a journalistic approach that supports victims in disclosing their abuse history. Michael Keaton’s complicated performance is magnetic, John Slattery retains a lot of his Mad Men charm, and Liev Schreiber puts in a very subtle yet focused performance as the new Boston Globe editor-in-chief on a mission. Stanley Tucci is particularly excellent as a lawyer who seems to have no time whatsoever to help. But I think my favourite performance in this film, one that doesn’t seem to be getting much praise, was by Brian d’Arcy James, one of the team of journalists who discovers that there is a ‘treatment centre’ for accused paedophile priests around the corner from his house, from his children. His discovery in that moment, and subsequent intense determination, was chilling.
Much more can be said about the film’s aesthetic qualities and its beautiful score. But ultimately, Spotlight is all about a story that is continually unfolding as time passes. The dedicated team of journalists at the Boston Globe brought the issue of paedophile priests within the Catholic Church out from the darkness and into the light of a modern age where these crimes can not and will not be swept under the rug anymore. As aforementioned, this is an issue that is uncomfortable to hear about (and some of the dialogue in the film is quite graphic in that regard), but it is a film that has a very important message and history behind it that cannot be ignored. As someone who works with children who have suffered trauma such as sexual and physical abuse, this film made me angry for the victims – and also thankful that a film like this is receiving praise and attention at the highest level. Is it worth watching Spotlight at the cinema? Absolutely.
Is it worth paying for a ticket?: Yes!
Watch the trailer here.