It’s strange how specific film genres seem to come along in phases and this year, in quick succession, we are getting two movies that deal with investigative journalism.
Still to come is Cate Blanchett in Truth, but for now we have the measured slow burn that is Spotlight, the tale behind the dedicated team of journalists at the Boston Globe that exposed the truly mind-boggling scale of child abuse in the Catholic Church.
In the wrong hands this could have been the worst kind of gutter expose – all screaming headlines and lurid details – but here it becomes a meticulously detailed examination of the painstaking detective work the team did in order to not only net individual priests but also get to the very heart of the cover up within the higher echelons of the church itself.
The film is based on real events that happened in 2002, a time before universal computer and internet access, and so when new editor Marty Baron (a wonderfully taut performance form Liev Schreiber) gives team leader Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) the go-ahead to dig deep, it means doing it in the old-fashioned way.
They pound pavements, they knock on doors, they take notes and they plough through hundreds upon hundreds of written files, witness accounts and affidavits before they hit the mother lode – the church’s own records of priests moved to different parishes or ‘retired’ due to ill health (its way of covering the tracks of the paedophiles within its own ranks).
While Baron and Robinson follow a softly, softly approach, not wanting to print the story before the highest levels of the church are implicated, one of the Spotlight team members, Mike (Mark Ruffalo) rages at the frustration of knowing while they wait for the right moment, other children may be abused. His rage is shared by a lawyer representing many of the victims (brilliantly played by none other than the great Stanley Tucci) who has learned the hard: you take on the might of the Catholic Church at your peril.
This is something Baron discovers in person when invited to a reception with the Catholic Cardinal of Boston who hands the Jewish editor a copy of the Catholic Catechism with the oblique warning ‘how do you say no to God?’
Spotlight is a film about lies, innuendo and threats, and about the strength of guilt and shame that keep people silent in the face of wrongdoing. It’s also about the hypocrisy of an institution that is meant to be caring for its congregation while systematically abusing some of its most vulnerable members. But most of all it is about the hard graft by a dedicated team of journalists who knew this was one story they just could not let get away.
Directed and co-written by Todd McCarthy it shows what you need to make a gripping (and Oscar-nominated movie) is a story full of human interest and a group of actors who are dedicated and talented enough to take them with you as they lead you through the tale.