DIR:Tom McCarthy • WRI: Josh Singer, Tom McCarthy • PRO: Blye Pagon Faust, Steve Golin, Michael Sugar • DOP: Masanobu Takayanagi • ED: Tom McArdle • DES: Stephen H. Carter • MUS: Howard Shore • CAST: Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo
Modern history has been forever dirtied, tarnished by organised, uniformed mortal sin. Fifteen years of worldwide media coverage has revealed the horrific experiences of what is understood to be hundreds of thousands of victims of clerical abuse, inflicted by members of the Catholic Church. And now, one of the world’s most powerful institutions, bewildered and suspended in the spotlight, finds itself a very uncomfortable position. In spite of the many words humans use to apologize, the Church’s reluctance to admit any wrongdoing has served to underscore how alien it has become to modern culture, and in turn, this is how our culture has come to represent it. As frozen out Florida priest John Gallagher poignantly pointed out this week, they are an organisation “so far behind that they think they’re ahead”.
These phenomenal events of the past number of decades have been captured before in cinema: The Magdalene Sisters, Song for a Raggy Boy, more recently in Amy Berg’s shocking documentary Deliver Us from Evil and Alex Gibney’s Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is to name but a few. Cinema has been a medium used to honour these victims; by listening to their stories it has offered empathy and compassion where there was none, and a culturally truthful response to something that originated in hurt and deceit.
That is one of the most prominent features of Tom McCarthy’s latest bidding, Spotlight. Joined by acclaimed ‘real-life to screen’ writer Josh Singer, the film tells the remarkable true story of a team of investigative journalists at the Boston Globe newspaper known as ‘Spotlight’, who broke the story on clerical abuse in the Boston diocese in 2001. The opening scene, set in 1976 in a Boston police precinct is glimpse at what was to come: a priest has been brought in on allegations of abuse, the victim and their mother are cajoled, arrangements are made for secrecy, said priest is collected by his superior who sweeps while the judiciaries hold the rug. This was the process, until a number of these stories reluctantly found their way onto the pages of the Globe newspaper, only to disappear again, almost unnoticed.
Fast forward to 2001 when a new editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) arrives at the paper and almost overnight the disappeared stories of reported abuse are back on the table. Encouraged by the first non-Bostonian editor in chief, the Spotlight team comprising of Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Keaton), Mike Rezendes (Ruffalo), Sasha Pfeiffer (Mc Adams) and Matt Carroll (D’Arcy James) start to dig, and with the surface barely scratched, cases of abuse, payoffs, smear campaigns, stolen documents and cover-ups begin to emerge. As the investigation quickly progresses, the sheer scale of what had happened in the Boston diocese became apparent – with the help of senior Catholic officials, in both the US and the Vatican, the most devoutly Catholic city in North America had been plagued by paedophile priest for decades, a sum of over 90 in total, whom had knowingly been shipped from parish to parish, given predatory free-reign and a thumbs up to sexually and spiritually abuse at will.
Visually, the films authenticity is marked by the somewhat non-descript decor, having shot much of the office scenes at the Boston Globe. Great efforts were made to ensure the production design and costume were reflective of the time, and succeed in being unobtrusive – you wouldn’t necessarily imagine a film set in 2001 as being a period piece but alas, ‘the times, they are a changin’.
The four leads have been hailed by their real life counter-parts for their adopted characterisations – dozens of trips were made by cast and crew to Boston to meet with victims, journalists and lawyers involved and it is apparent throughout, authentic to the bone. The ensemble is formidable and above all, the performances and McCarthy’s direction convey the importance of investigative journalism which is all but obsolete in a world of bloggers, and the vitality of a free press whose fundamental action is to keep our institutions in check. From a decidedly disadvantaged position, they took on world’s oldest government – whose corruption is unique to itself – and won. Before the credits roll, presented on screen are over two hundred countries which have had cases of a similar scale, ensuring we know the ugliest phenomenon imaginable is actually bigger than we can imagine.
Definitely worth catching, this one, even if you just want to kick back from a place of knowing and relish in the excavation of damning truth, which by now we are all familiar with. A harrowing story has been recounted here, and you’ll probably be pissed off for most of it but you’ll leave feeling a little ping of triumph, a pride in humanity, and maybe even a little further compelled in the great divide between the Catholic Church and everyone else.
P.s. It’s never graphic so the faint-hearted are catered for.
118 minutes (See IFCO for details)
Spotlight is released 29th January 2016