‘Spotlight’ shines light into church’s darkest places

Arts & Culture
(Open Road Films, 2015)
Directed by Tom McCarthy

Catholic audiences are all too familiar with the premise of the film Spotlight: Reporting by the Boston Globe broke open the details of widespread sexual abuse by Catholic priests and subsequent cover-ups by the church hierarchy. The movie tells the story behind the story, focusing on the months of investigative reporting conducted by the Globe’s “Spotlight” research team that led to the news breaking in January 2002.

Watching the reporters work with paper catalogue systems, bulky reference books, and pens and notepads, it can be easy to forget that we are less than 15 years removed from the events depicted. But for all that has changed since then, both with technology and within the church itself, the film thankfully does not take an overly heavy-handed approach; much like the reporters themselves, the movie is dedicated to the facts. Standout performances from Michael Keaton, who plays Spotlight team leader Walter Robinson, and Mark Ruffalo, as dogged reporter Mike Rezendes, convey the entire team’s commitment to the story and, ultimately, the victims.

The film’s power lies in the gamut of emotions that come across onscreen. Clearly portrayed is the pain of the victims and how their lives were forever altered. The frustration and anger of the reporters—taking on a powerful and beloved institution, in horror of what they suspected was true, required to keep their work confidential, and in disagreement about when to take the story to press—adds depth and tension. The doubt and shock felt by those who could not believe what had happened will likely bring viewers back to their own memories of this time.

Spotlight’s weighty ending impresses upon us that this journalism did not uncover just an isolated incident (or, to echo a phrase repeated in the film, “a few bad apples”). Rather, these reporters shined a light into the church’s darkest places and forced the world to face the truth.