The Watchers

The Watchers

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Review: Spotlight (UK Cert 15)

In early 2002, the Spotlight investigative team of The Boston Globe published a story which had far-reaching implications for the Catholic Church: not only was there widespread and systematic sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in the Boston area(which stretched back decades in some cases), but that senior members of the church- including the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Law- knew about it and did nothing to stop it. The team's investigations into this groundbreaking story is the now the focus of Spotlight, a biographical drama directed and co-written by Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor). 

It's not an easy watch; some of the stories of abuse that are recounted are shocking and unpleasant, and you may well feel incredibly angry and disgusted with the degree of complicity and the cover-up at large. It's a film that will raise a lot of questions and a fair bit of debate. 

Performances are strong across the board (indeed, the film won the Best Ensemble prize at the Screen Actors' Guild Awards). Mark Ruffalo is superb as Mike Rezendes, one of the reporters and a tenacious little terrier who digs into the story. Rachel McAdams is similarly good as Sacha Pfeiffer, the lone female reporter (although, refreshingly, her gender is not her sole defining feature). Her empathy and determination shine through, as she has to reconcile the investigation with the effect it would have on her God-fearing family. 

Michael Keaton should count himself unlucky to miss out on the awards hype as his performance as Spotlight editor Walter 'Robby' Robinson is another career best. Whether facing down oleaginous lawyers or confronting an old friend who was also complicit in helping cover up the extent of the abuse, Keaton is just excellent. There's great support from the ever-dependable Stanley Tucci as lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (who is fighting for the victims of abuse and who has some great scenes together with Ruffalo) and Liev Schrieber as Marty Baron, the new editor-in-chief of the Globe who sanctions the Spotlight team to investigate the scandal. 

Comparisons to All The President's Men are inevitable; while both films cover major investigations into huge scandals, they're also paeans to old-school investigative journalism (some of the most satisfying scenes feature characters rifling around in archives or looking through microfiche). In one of those interesting true-life-is-stranger-than-fiction coincidences, the managing editor of The Boston Globe at the time of the Spotlight exposes was Ben Bradlee Jr (played by John Slattery), who was the son of the Washington Post editor who published Woodward and Bernstein's reports into the Watergate scandal. Spotlight even has its own 'Deep Throat' in psychologist Richard Sipe (an uncredited voice performance by Richard Jenkins) whose telephone calls prompt the team to uncover the full extent of the abuse.

In a sobering epilogue, the film tells us of the extent to which the abuse took place, with page after page of names of cities throughout the US and the world where investigations into historic and current sexual abuse cases were set up. It shows how endemic the situation is without attaching any judgement to it. That's for the viewer to do. 

A harrowing yet compelling film, utterly gripping and brimming with righteous anger, Spotlight is without a doubt the best film I've seen so far this year. 

Rating: 5 out of 5


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