Movie review: Spotlight

Where the Post had Ben Bradlee, the Globe had Ben Bradlee, Jr.

spotlightIt appears that every movie I’ve seen lately, most recently Spotlight, is designed to tick me off. The subject of my ire this time is the Roman Catholic church that allowed its priests to prey upon its young, vulnerable members. Not only did they do nothing about it, but the system also allowed priests to get transferred to other parishes to continue their misdeeds.

All this I knew coming in. What was interesting in the telling was this: once upon a time, great metropolitan newspapers actually took on the system, even when that system is the mighty RC church in Boston. One truly chilling moment in the movie was one priest’s rationalization of why his actions weren’t so bad. Beyond the pain I felt from the physical and emotional abuse of the victims was the loss of faith and trust the now-adult victims experienced.

Some have compared Spotlight with All the President’s Men, and I think it would be fairly apt. Instead of two disparate reporters from the Washington Post trying to make sense of Watergate, there’s the special unit of the Boston Globe (Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, and the headstrong character played by Mark Ruffalo). The group is headed by Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton), attempting to ascertain the scope of the church scandal.

Where the Post had Ben Bradlee, the Globe had Ben Bradlee, Jr. (John Slattery), plus a cerebral new boss (Liev Schreiber). The closest thing to Deep Throat is an infuriating, possibly crackpot lawyer (Stanley Tucci) who was representing some of the victims.

At one point, the team asks someone who had studied the phenomenon whether it could be as many as 13 priests in their area. Of course, there were far more, and not limited to the Boston diocese. In fact, the end of the movie lists all the areas in the country, then the rest of the world, where pedophile priests were rooted out. This included Albany, NY, first on the alphabetical list, as the nearly sold-out crowd at the Spectrum Theatre in the city noted.

The other great sadness of this story is that the events happened early in this century, yet the level of investigative reporting has all but disappeared, due to budget cutting. This is not a flashy movie but is a solidly made, occasionally tension-inducing narrative, despite the fact that we largely know the outcome.