What makes Spotlight — the latest film from Tom McCarthy — such a strong piece of work, is that it is about the work. The time it takes to produce solid journalism. To knock on doors, read court documents and endless ledgers. To pester legal counsel and file motions until you get what you want. Spotlight is a movie about the Catholic sex scandal and the cover-up that followed, but it is also about the amount of time and work it took to bring that scandal to light.
While that scandal is well-known in 2015, in 2001 — when the majority of the movie takes place — it was unthinkable. Mainly because the cover-up was so elaborate and so intricate that it required cooperation from the Church, key parishioners and the surrounding government. As the attorney representing the abused, Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), states, “If it takes a village to raise as child, it takes a village to abuse one.”
Garabedian is an Armenian, a transplant in Boston — America’s largest neighborhood. For years, the people of Boston worked against Garabedian, trying to keep him out of their business as they protected their own. But Garabedian, and another outsider, the Globe’s new publisher, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) — single, Jewish and from New York — are the people who will help bring this ugly interior to light.
Baron first order of business is to assign the Globe’s Spotlight team — locally driven long-form reporting — to look deeper into the allegations of sex abuse in the Catholic Church, a topic that the paper has glossed over in the past. Unlike Baron and Garabedian, the Spotlight team, headed by Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton), grew up in Boston — Robinson went to the Catholic school across the street from the Globe — and they know that going after the Catholic Church won’t be the most popular thing to do. They are constantly reminded that Boston is “our town” and that their town must be protected from outsiders.
The Spotlight team — played by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James — forges ahead in their pursuit of the truth, but McCarthy constantly reminds the viewers what these reporters are up against. Some victims willingly come forth, others become hostile, while the Church and officials wave a threatening finger. All the while, the churches of Boston loom large in the distance.
There are no flashbacks, no re-enactments. When abused survivors recount their tales, they do it with the distance of someone who has told it time and time again. Each time they tell their story, they hope that the person listening will help them. They have been burned in the past, why should this time be different? And so the Spotlight team listens and they write. Everyone in this movie writes and writes and writes. Because every thought counts, every piece of information can lead to something bigger. In Spotlight, those little pieces expose an entire world.