Tom McCarthy’s latest film is based on the Pulitzer prize winning series of articles by the Boston Globe that uncovered a major sex abuse scandal that took place around 2001-2002. Spotlight has been compared by many critics to Alan J. Pakula’s 1976 classic All the President’s Men, which happens to be my all time favorite journalism film. It has garnered unanimous praise from critics and journalists all over the world.
Liev Schreiber plays Marty Baron, who joins the Boston Globe as their new editor-in-chief. The initial impression we, as well as the other characters in the film, get from him is that he might be one of those rigid and grouchy fellow who would upset the natural order of things. But we slowly learn that he is exactly the kind of guy who should be running a newspaper. With a sensible and calm head on his shoulders, he serves as the voice of reason and pillar of encouragement during few testing circumstances. Michael Keaton plays Walter Robinson, who leads a special team of investigative reporters within the Globe called “Spotlight”. Working under him are Sacha Pfeiffer (played by Rachel McAdams), Michael Rezendes (played by Mark Ruffalo) and Matt Carroll (played by Brian d’Arcy James), some of the best reporters working in the business today.
Baron comes across a piece on a sex abuse scandal by a Boston priest and he asks the Spotlight team to go after it. But he is not just interested in one priest and one church. He wants to go after the whole system and he conveys this with the steely attitude of one of those tough and morally upright Sheriffs you see in one of those Westerns. Robinson’s team uncovers a case of not just one priest but several and eventually learn about 90 priests who may be guilty of paedophelia. A few victims are interviewed and the lurid details they reveal shake everyone to their very core. A sexual abuse lawyer named Mitchell Garabedian (played by Stanley Tucci) informs Rezendes about a collection of documents that would prove that the Church initiated secret deals with the victims in the hope of covering up the whole thing. Now, this is the time when the September 11 attacks take place and as a result, they have to put their story on hold. The film doesn’t portray their heroes as flawless and doesn’t resort to sensationalism and instead takes a restrained and realistic approach in how it wants to convey these events.
At one point, Robinson regretfully learns that this case was brought to his attention many years ago but he chose to ignore it. Even though he doesn’t remember it, he feels guilty. It’s a tense moment but Baron, instead of being upset at him, compliments him and his whole team for doing what they are doing now. The reporters were all raised Catholics with the exception of Baron, who is Jewish. The fact that only an outsider like him would have the guts to take on something of his magnitude is continually brought up. Attempts are made to persuade Robinson and his team to ditch the story. On multiple occasions, Baron and Robinson are asked if they really wished to challenge the Church. Rezendes is the most emotional and overzealous of the whole team. He expresses his anger and frustration at the fact that people chose to look the other way even though they all knew all along what was happening. He pushes Robinson to publish the story as soon as possible but the wise and experienced older journalist knows that it’s not the right time.
This brings to mind the scene in All the President’s Men where Ben Bradley tells Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to get more solid evidence before going ahead with the story. That reminds me, Ben Bradley’s son Ben Bradley Jr. appears in this film and he is played by John Slattery. He too, like his father, is a journalist. The distressing state of the victims as well as the shocking statistics that is revealed in the end is sure to anger anyone with a heart. This is a film that shouldn’t be ignored. It’s a well-crafted journalism film. I wish we had more reporters like these today.