Spotlight full movie review - "All the Archbishop's Men"... or 6% of them...
Tom McCarthy's "Spotlight" is one of these movies that are either loved or hated for the wrong reasons.
Wherever your faith stands, it is not a charge against the Roman Catholic Church, but members of the Archdiocese who covered up ongoing child molestations and protected incriminated priests. The film's goal is less to make people question their faith on God, than on the men in charge of their faith. Ultimately, the Church's greatest enemy becomes the Church itself.
And the film's brilliant screenplay erases all the controversy in one single line and I salute Tom McCarthy, the director of Catholic background, and co-writer with Josh singer, to have very intelligently made his point through one simple exchange. Reporter Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) is talking to one of the victims, and the man says he still considers himself a Catholic. How so? Mike asks. It's simple, the Catholic Church is an Institution, made by men, and men pass by while faith is eternal. Mike, a Catholic like many members of the 'Spotlight' unit, doesn't get it, but at least the point is made: the priests who commit these crimes were criminal and the whole investigation aims the accomplices, which leas to another masterstroke of writing: the portrayal of the 'villain'.
Wait, what villain? Did I miss something? Was there a bad guy in the film? Not outside the script as McCarthy deliberately avoided depicting the incriminated Cardinal Law as a physical presence in the film, in order to avoid the presence of a polarizing villain. And sometimes, the invisibility of the 'bad guy' makes his influence even more fearsome, especially when, as the investigations progresses, the journalists understand it's not just about the Church, it's a whole system that is involved. And you can feel it from the directing, Boston, the Catholic city, the birthplace of the Kennedys, the setting of "The Verdict" another thrilling courtroom drama with religious figures in cause, this Boston is a great city, but it feels rather small and confined in "Spotlight", as to convey a sense of paranoid entrapment, you know like "what happens in Boston, stays in Boston".
And this is exactly how the sexual abuses spread widely and became a pattern that would forever soil the image of the Church. No one took the responsibility, no one faced the facts, no lawyers had the guts to appeal to court and no journalist dared to dig deeper in the case, including the Globe, it was all settled privately. Everyone is responsible, and this is why the film's impartiality isn't to be challenged, they're all part of the same hypocrisy and like Mitchell Garabedian, Stanley Tucci as the lawyer who wrote a column accusing Cardinal Law of covering up a priest, "it takes a city to raise a child, it takes a city to abuse one". And I guess this is why it will take an outsider to start all over again. It's not too late after all, to make up lost time.
Marty Barone (Liev Schreiber) is the new editor of the Globe, and sees the Garabedian's column as the tree that hides the forest. He asks the 'Spotlight' investigate unit, lead by 'Robby' Robinson (Michael Keaton) to investigate. Thanks to Rezendes' tenacity, Geberian blows the whistle and give other names, and the snowball effect leads to a series of convocations, door-knocks, interviews with the victims, lawyers who were in charge of the case, and from a few priests, it turns to 6% of the Archdiocese being involved. And like its glorious predecessor, "All the President's Men", "Spotlight" makes a thriller out of a relatively safe mission without threatening phone calls, death threats, gunshots or chases in dark parking lots.
But if the journalists' lives are not at stakes, the harm is already done for the victims' lives, forever ruined as it wasn't just "physical, but psychological" abuse, so what the investigation does is a quest for justice and for shining (literally) the spotlight on the people who let some awful crimes to be and let be done. "What's your responsibility to publish this?" Mike is asked by a judge, his answer is perfect: "what's our responsibility not to publish it". It's a matter of ethics, and as the white knights, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams make an interesting Redford-Hoffman-like pair with Keaton as 'Jason Robards', encouraging the team to go further, or slow down for tactical reasons. Tlming matters as well and it's for these little subtleties, that the screenplay is a winner.
"Spotlight" is one of the year's most critically acclaimed movies, and the Best Picture front-runner, earning a nomination for Best Supporting Actor (Ruffalo was the pounding heart of the film) and for directing and screenplay. Speaking of the screenplay, there's an abundance of name-dropping in the film and that can get pretty confusing, (there's even a moment where they kept referring to Law, and I didn't know it was the name of a Cardinal). But these considerations are trivial because it was the same with "All the President's Men" and it wasn't much an issue, as the film is most about the procedural than the details, the big scope: how this team of five journalists will make the light of truth shine. And McCarthy's sober directing, respectful to our intelligence, doesn't overdo the cheers, the last shot alone is emotionally rewarding.
For playing in the safe side and for its own good, "Spotlight" turns out to be one of the best movies of 2015, and shouldn't be judged for its attack against the Church, but for its fight for the truth, for justice and for the dignity of the victims who were too scared to translate their pain into words. Indeed, it's hard enough to talk about 'sexuality' and religion in public statements, imagine in the same sentence. And it's reassuring that the film was also well-received by the Church which, in a way, is coming to terms with its own demons.