So much has already been said and written about the pedophile scandal that’s devastated Catholicism over the past two decades; how can the subject possibly interest, much less rivet, the attention of contemporary movie audiences? Well, writer/director/actor Tom McCarthy (The Visitor, The Station Agent) has managed to do just that in this gripping tale of the newspaper reporters who brought this pestilential story to light over 15 years ago. Spotligt’s not only one of the most tension-filled and compelling films of the year; it also delivers a resounding “guilty verdict” on the conduct of a once-revered religious institution.
Michael Keaton (Birdman) Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher), Liev Schreiber (Pawn Sacrifice) and Rachael McAdams (TrueDetective) work brilliantly together with McCarthy and co-screenwriter Josh Singer’s lucid script to unfold the complex web of deception and complicity behind the Boston Globe’s exposure of priestly pedophilia in that city and the decade-long efforts by the archdiocese to cover up the crimes of nearly 90 priests.
Using lots of shoe leather, painstaking research into public records and the personal contacts of some of Bean Town’s best journalists, Spotlight flawlessly meshes the newspaper’s investigative efforts with succinct portrayals of those involved in this deliberate suppression of grievous sexual misconduct. Starting with Cardinal Bernard Law, (played with avuncular arrogance by Len Cariou) through diocesan-sympathetic lawyers, (a beautifully conflicted Jamey Sheridan & a remarkably smarmy Billy Crudup) who participated in sub-rosa hush money payments to agonized victims in exchange for their silence and on down through a chain of ancillary functionaries, (epitomized by an unctuous Paul Guilfoyle as the Cardinal’s P.R. hack) everyone involved leveraged the Church’s extensive connections with the political and social elites of the city while relying on the good will of people in the pews. The resulting portrait of the Catholic church runs from those who deliberately engaged in the suppression of the truth, to those who knew and did nothing to those who suspected but failed to act on the evidence - - all in the service of protecting “the good name” of Boston’s largest and most entrenched religious community.
Keaton shines as the leader of the investigative team, delivering a performance of understated strength while Ruffalo’s frenetically lapsed-Catholic idealist provides the perfect balance to Schreiber’s quiet portrayal of the paper’s newly appointed Jewish managing editor who emerges as the dispassionate outside observer patiently insisting on pursuing the facts no matter the cost to an entrenched religious hierarchy flexing its considerable civic muscle. In scene after scene, these portraits are seamlessly enhanced by a series riveting vignettes involving supporting members of the cast and the director utilizes everyone involved in the film to appalling perfection.
But perhaps the bitterest moment in the film comes at its denouement: when the story finally broke just after New Year’s Day in 2002, it led to a decade of global stone-walling by church authorities that Spotlight reports in a brief series of devastating ending credits that provide crushing evidence of the pervasive scope and destructive consequences of an egregious cover-up that continues to shame all those involved.
The Verdict? A must see movie and perhaps one of the five best films of 2015. See it, see it, see it.
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