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A Code Of Silence Hits The Spotlight

Updated on December 8, 2015

When the subject of dirty secrets arise, nobody expects dirty secrets to be kept by men in the ministry. The misdeeds of Boston priests had caught little attention until one newspaper decided to take an in-depth look at the matter in Spotlight. Set primarily in 2001, a new managing editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) comes to the Boston Globe from Miami. An initial examination of his new paper leads him to wonder why more hasn't been written about priests accused of molestation in the Boston Archdiocese. The subject had appeared in short news pieces and in columns, but the paper's team of Spotlight investigative reporters had never been tasked to look further into the matter until Baron assigned Walter "Robby" Robinson (Michael Keaton) and his Spotlight team to it. They learn two things very quickly. They learned more victims existed than the paper reported, and that those who litigated against the church settled very discretly, and insisted on that very discretion after the settlement.

The team goes through newspaper archives, while Robby presses his connections in the church fir answers. The church's lawyer, Jim Sullivan (Jamey Sheridan) won't divulge pertinent details because of client confidentiality, and neither, for the same reason, will Eric MacLeish (Billy Crudup), who represented the accuser. Reporter Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) gets a moment of the time of lawyer Mitch Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), who's also had success against the church in court. His represnetation of alleged victims continues, but some exhibits he had presented in previous court proceedings had been sealed by the court. Meanwhile, Phil Saviano (Neal Huff), a man whose claims of priest abuse went largely disregarded, states his case again for Spotlight. Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) interviews victims, while Matt Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James) makes other disturbing discoveries about certain ministers in the Archdiocese. The Spotlight reporters keep Marty and Assistant Managing Editor Ben Bradlee, Jr. (John Slattery), apprised of their progress as they find more incidents involving dozens of clergy. Even though Cardinal Bernard Law (Len Cariou) denies knowledge of these misdeeds, Sacha uncovers evidence to the contrary. The paper also has sought to get Garabidian's exhibits unsealed, even as Marty orders Spotlight to dedicate resources to the coverage of the 9/11 tragedy.

Tom McCarthy may not be widely known as an actor (though he has nearly 40 acting credits), but I have enjoyed the works I've seen that he has directed (The Station Agent, Win Win). The based-on-fact Spotlight, which McCarthy also co-wrote, is the best of his films I have seen. The movie is very unnerving to those who have a personal connection to Roman Catholicism, as every member of the Spotlight team has to some extent. Others outside the faith will find the revelations in Spotlight to be disturbing as well, as the conspiracy of silence shows its defensiveness. The movie wisely shows no real sense of triumph, even as the reporters get to the truth and the scope of the abuse. McCarthy shows that the end of the movie does not end how far these troubling incidents went. I found the movie's most troubling moment came when Sacha talked to a priest regarding the expose's focus. He was willing to talk until his sister angrily stopped the interview. Cardinal Law's remarks in the movie and the opening sequence involving the arrest of a priest who would later repeatedly offend show how far the city of Boston disregarded a true menace in this largely Catholic city. Few films dare to be as downbeat as Spotlight, but I am glad that McCarthy went against film convention, and he avoided being lurid in the process.

The ensemble shows the gravity of the situation with their performances. Keaton makes sure the team does a thorough job as Robby, for he knows their report will shock and anger the readership. He also makes sure to show a cool head, even when he presses his friends in the Archdiocese for answers to the toughest questions. Ruffalo shows dedication as Mike, who knows that another paper wants to scoop Spotlight as they gather their evidence. The work also makes Mike emotional as he debates Robby on taking their findings to print. McAdams shows compassion and sadness as Sacha, who hears the tales of the victims while dealing with how the story will impact her and her very Catholic grandmother. Tucci and Schreiber provide exceptional supporting work as a lawyer and an editor whose actions garner constant scrutiny, as neither man is a Catholic. Richard Jenkins provides a vocal cameo as Richard Sipe, a former priest who became a therapist and an expert in clergy abuse. Sipe, by phone, helps Spotlight understand this disturbing behavior.

As Spotlight shows, the media has much trouble to report in the world. Meanwhile, the citizens of Boston experienced a crisis in their own city, but the scope of the problem went unreported. People put such trust in the religion so many of them observe, they couldn't believe that this issue was so widespread. Those who acted as predators in a surplice and cassock knew they wielded great power, and others covered their actions. Everybody involved in the reporting of the incidents took a hard look at the matter, and didn't like what they saw. They questioned their personal beliefs, but they never questioned that they had to finally tell the story in its full and very unpleasant scope.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Spotlight four stars. An expose that hits home.


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