Journalism can be a hard topic to cover in film without adding a bunch of unnecessary drama to make it interesting. But Spotlight has the benefit of a great script with very natural dialogue. Nothing here feels forced of feigned. It immersively chronicles the Boston Globe’s long-time investigation into the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal.
As a guy who grew up in the Catholic Church, it isn’t easy watching this film and knowing that it’s the Catholic Church who is to blame. But like any place where you have people in a position of power, you’re going to have those who abuse that power. The Church is no different. And just like not every cop is racist and not every black person plays basketball, not every priest is a child molester. Although I was an alter server as a child and luckily never experienced or heard of anyone personally who suffered through this tragedy, I do shake my head at those who tried to cover it up.
Although the sex-abuse issues were nationwide, the film focuses mostly on the staggering numbers in the Boston Archdiocese. Catholicism in Boston has been known to be more of a culture in that city than most other places in the country. Their dependence and wholehearted belief in the Church made for a much easier target for predators. It’s one thing to idolize God and hold true to your religious beliefs, but it’s another to idolize other human beings. To idolize is to believe that one is not capable of fault. Well, the people of Boston held true, more than anyone, that these priests were godlike figures who could do no wrong. It was a sentiment that exuded from everywhere in that city. In California, where I live, I’ve never experienced anything quite like that in the 26 years I’ve spent as a practicing member of the Catholic faith. Not to say that these priests aren’t expected to lead a holier life than most of our own, but then we look back to that whole abuse of power thing.
As for the movie, it’s very well done. The acting is superb. Director, Tom McCarthy, gets the very best performance out of each of his actors. Especially Liev Schreiber, who does his best Steven Wright impression, always remaining soft spoken, yet intimidating. He never overplays his character, which isn’t necessarily easy for an actor to do.
Mark Ruffalo is perhaps the biggest standout. He’s an absolute phenomenon here. He commits so much to every one of his character’s idiosyncrasies that it’s truly hypnotizing.
The script is also great, doing well to explain and give background on a lot of the more convoluted details of the story. It can, however, be hard to follow all the names that are being spewed at you, remembering who everyone is. The story moves along briskly with only a slight thinning out for about 10 minutes towards the end.
But the one thing that Spotlight does pretty poorly at is depth, almost as if it’s deliberately trying not to have any. It’s anything but a character study. There’s a lot of implied background for the characters, but you can’t help but want a little more. Even in the macro sense, it has several perfect opportunities to explore the psychology behind these child molesters, but the film never really takes advantage of them, thus leaving a few scenes feeling unnecessary.
Despite making unbiased claims, the film does have a bit of an agenda of its own. It tells of certain characters’ stated struggles with their faith, although they had already admitted to being lapsed. While it never shows how the Church’s scandal would affect actual churchgoers.
Although I’m not commending any of it, I know why Cardinal Law chose to cover up all of those scandals. When you have a society that is full of ignorant people who constantly generalize everything, then you are going to have other people who try and cover up these instances in fear that the general public will, indeed, generalize. And so it happened anyway. Those who aren’t Catholic go into this movie and may look at the Church in a negative light. But like I said, people love to think in absolutes. I, myself, don’t idolize anyone, but can totally recognize that these are definitely horrible tragedies to be ashamed of.