Cinema review: Spotlight

How the Catholic church's paedophilia cover-up in Boston was exposed

Rachel McAdam, Michael Keaton, and Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight.

Rachel McAdam, Michael Keaton, and Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight.

THE SURPRISE of the year so far is Spotlight. Much like Room it is an uncomfortable topic that will be avoided by people but you should not avoid it (or Room for that matter ). The film concentrates on the investigation run by the Boston Globe in 1999/2000, on the systematic abuse and ensuing cover-up by the Catholic church throughout the last century.

The film's title comes from the spotlight team, a small group of journalists who work for the Globe, whose remit is to look into in depth stories that can take years to research. The article the film is based on won the Globe a pulitzer.

When a new editor arrives in the Globe, who has a reputation for making cuts and thinning staff, tension at the paper is high, and the expensive and not very lucrative spotlight team worry for their future. The new editor, Marty Baron, an outsider, “an unmarried man of the Jewish faith who hates baseball” sees a small clipping about a paedophile priest and a lawyer claiming he was protected by the Archbishop of Boston, he sets the spotlight team on the case. After some great work they uncover the cover up, and how wide ranging and all encompassing is it. The impact this will have on Boston is not lost on the paper and, despite pressures from inside and outside the paper, they go after the story of the cover up rather than the crime.

The ensemble cast here are fantastically restrained, there is no “you can’t handle the truth” moments, instead the performances are modest and precise. There are no hidden motives or invented side stories. It is a very mature film in that way. The obvious companion piece here is All The President's Men, and while it is not quite on that level, it is a great movie and the type of film we do not get enough of these days.

The film's director Tom McCarthy has had an interesting year. He is nominated for, not only best director this year, but also worst director in the Razzies (a reverse Oscars for the worst films of the year ) for The Cobbler with Adam Sandler. Its hard to believe he’s made such rubbish with how assured Spotlight is. He has a wonderful ability to make the monotonous leg work done by the journalists interesting.

It is also brilliantly comprehensible without dumbing anything down. There are no wasted scenes or invented love stories or even overly dramatic moments. Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams were nominated but I think the best performance here goes to Liev Schreiber. Michael Keaton continues his renaissance delivering a really great performance. The rest of the supporting cast all deliver in small unassuming roles particularly the two lawyer played by Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup.

Much like Room this sounds like a much tougher watch than it is. Paedophilia is obviously one of the most horrible crimes there is and a topic people will avoid if they can. However Spotlight is more than just condemnation of this heinous crime. It is a celebration of journalism and a win for cinema. It is an emotional movie, and at times rage inducing, but you are always confident the outcome, in terms of the factual story and how it is told on screen, is in safe hands. “If it takes a village to raise a child it takes a village to abuse them” is a rather haunting line from one of the survivors advocates. I think here in Ireland, and particularly the west, it's an important story.

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