I was raised Catholic. I went to Catholic school from 1st to 8th grade. I was a lector at mass, a leader of the Youth group and actually taught Catechism briefly. I grew to be disillusioned with the church mostly due to the personal experiences with certain priests and the growing realization that the Catholic Church had become more of a business organization rather than a spiritual one. When I was in 5th grade a new priest came to out parish. I was immediately wary of Father Tony. He was always lingering on the playground, kids hanging off of him like he was a ‘Jungle Jim’. He especially spent quite a bit of time with the 8th grade boys, often taking them on camping trips. It was soon revealed that father Tony had been sexually molesting the boys not only during camping trips but in the rectory. It was furthered discovered that this was not the first time that Father Tony had been caught. He had been in several other communities molesting boys and the Church continued to move him from one parish to another, covering up for him and themselves at every turn. This was in the Seventies.
Spotlight takes place in 2001 and tells the true story about the Boston Globe investigative team that broke the story about the widespread molestation of children by catholic priests in the Boston Archdiocese and the Catholic Church cover up that spanned decades.
This is what I would call an ‘old fashioned’ Hollywood movie reminiscent of All The President’s Men (1976) told with great clarity and purpose and with an amazingly good cast that includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian D’Arcy James, Liev Shrieber (Ray Donavan), Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, Jamey Sheridan (Law and Order Criminal Intent) and John Slattery (Mad Men). The film fully engages you and manages to tell a complicated story while never losing the audience. A lot of credit should go to Director and Co-Writer Tom McCarthy. McCarthy started his career as a working actor in such shows as The Wire, Boston Public and films like Good Night and Good Luck and 2012. But he’s also become a very good and successful writer-director. His film The Visitor (2008) garnered an Oscar nomination for Richard Jenkins who lends his voice to an important unseen character in Spotlight.
The case of Father John Geoghan had already been reported on in The Boston Globe. He was charged with grabbing the buttocks of a 10 year old boy by a swimming pool. When the new editor of the Globe arrives, Marty Baron (Shrieber), he suggests that there is more to the story than anyone is seeing and he wants the Spotlight team led by Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Keaton) to begin investigating further. The more Robby and his squad, Mike Rezendes (Ruffalo), Sasha Pfieffer (McAdams) and Matt Caroll (D’Arcy James) seem to uncover only leads them further and further down the rabbit hole of the Catholic Church and the numerous church and public officials that took part in the cover up. Though not revealed in the course of the film, Geoghan was later revealed to have molested at least 130 boys over his 30 years as a priest in 6 different parishes.
The team of investigators have a hard time getting information or even finding any documentation that any of these crimes had occurred even though attorneys had admitted they worked on such cases and made settlements with the church on behalf of some of the victims. Eventually, through their tireless persistence, they manage to garner the evidence that broke the story for good in 2002.
Michael Keaton continues his career rejuvenation with another solid performance as the head of the Spotlight investigative team. But the big takeaway for me was the performance of Mark Ruffalo who just disappears into his part. Ruffalo has been very good for a long time but he continues to amaze and should pick up his third Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.
The subject matter is tough but the film is really about a team of journalists after a story and the demands it makes on their psyches. It’s a wonderful character study with a surprisingly emotional payoff. There is no big victory at the end here, just the satisfaction of getting the story right. The characters and the rest of us are left with the lingering thought of how long this went on for, not just in the United States but all over the world, and how many lives were damaged.