In 2001, editor Marty Baron of The Boston Globe assigns a team of journalists to
investigate allegations against John Geoghan, an unfrocked priest accused of molesting more than 80 boys. Led by editor Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), reporters Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Matt Carroll and Sacha Pfeiffer interview victims and try to unseal sensitive documents. The reporters make it their mission to provide proof of a cover-up of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church.
The film follows The Boston Globe‘s “Spotlight” team, the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative unit in the United States, and its investigation into cases of widespread and systemic child sex abuse in the Boston area by numerous Roman Catholic priests. It is based on a series of stories by the real Spotlight Team that earned The Globe the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
This movie was based on such a bomb of a scoop that it would be good even with silent images and a voice-over. I watched it with real interest although it touched two super-sensitive issues, namely child abuse and religion. It is a procedural thriller, showing that even without buckets of blood and 100 k dead bodies you can make a good movie, providing your story is right.
You should be patient with it – it is so unshowy, sometimes even deliberately slow, with more than one scene with just two ‘talking heads’ or, alternatively, two middle-aged guys scratching their three-day stubble, instead of action. Still, as long as you keep in mind the fact that it is based on real facts you will watch it to the bittersweet end.
Let’s face it, on that particular occasion the American Catholic Church officials acted as if they belonged to a mafia – they lied, intimidated, colluded, concealed evidence and, what’s most disgusting, failed to punish their own members for really heinous crimes, those of preying on innocent and weak. In fact most of the priests involved managed to get away with it never even suffering the proverbial slap on the wrist whereas their victims had to struggle with consequences, often committing suicide or getting addicted to alcohol and/or drugs as a result.
The movie also showed how difficult it was to break the wall of silence and speak up in a city like Boston. The paper had evidence of abuse 10 years before the campaign began, but somehow contrived to downplay and bury the story (guess why); it took a new editor, both non-Boston and Jewish, to get things started.
What I missed while watching Spotlight was some real threat from the side of the all-powerful church. You keep hearing about how they are going to come after reporters who dare to challenge their holly authority but this never really happens, and there is none of the paranoia which, I don’t doubt, must have surrendered that particular case. Also I was rather surprised how few women worked on prominent positions in The Boston Globe, apparently an editorial office which favours males from good schools who play golf. Or, if they are immigrants, at least run. Those unwaveringly male reporters are presented as dishevelled mavericks (a cliche repeated at nauseam in American movies) who don’t need to keep the same hours as everyone else, doing a fair bit of shouting and desk-thumping while they happen to show their faces at work. They also somehow never need to do the boring grind of sitting down and writing stuff. One wonders why they are paid at all.
An important movie about an important issue; still don’t expect it to thrill you with many action scenes and never even mention the Bechdel test.