By Marshall Schaffer
Many a procedural, be it “Zodiac” or “Zero Dark Thirty,” has created suspense by following a straight, chronological line towards its ultimate result or finding. Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight,” a story of the Boston Globe‘s uncovering of widespread sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, takes a slightly different approach to achieve a similar goal. His screenplay, co-written with Josh Singer, treats the journalistic investigation like solving a Rubik’s Cube.
In order to understand the magnitude of the discovery made by the Spotlight team, a four-person squad of the Globe‘s finest inquirers, it is crucial to grasp just how complex and intertwined all the key players were. The molestation was committed by over eighty priests in the Boston area, which alone is a staggering and abhorrent finding. But the complex web of officials in the church, in the government and in the community who enabled the abuse and remained complicit in their silence makes for the real story. Not even the press, celebrated as it is in the film, gets off without a slap on the wrist.
“Spotlight” respects the work of the team enough not to simplify their work into a simplified narrative. It feels effortless to watch and manageable to comprehend since McCarthy directs the proceedings with great agility, pivoting from one strand of thought to another without ever causing motion sickness. Perhaps only when the film nears its foregone conclusion, the publication of the earth-shattering article, do we fully realize just how many crossed wires they had to untangle.
In spite of the incendiary topic, which could justifiably merit some major histrionics, McCarthy chooses to keep “Spotlight” at a relatively even keel. Interestingly, the one time a character – Mark Ruffalo’s Mike Rezendes – does get to blow off a ton of steam, he turns out to be in the wrong. This is a film that trusts facts, research and process over raw feeling and intuition. In their absence, the reporters’ work would count for very little.
Each wrestles with the weight of the story in their own poignant, personal way. Rachel McAdams’ Sacha Pfeiffer worries that a story attacking the Catholic Church would destroy her devout, aging grandmother. Michael Keaton’s Walter Robinson grapples with the value of compromising interpersonal relationships to get the information he needs to make the story. Brian D’Arcy James’ Matt Carroll finds that the danger of sick priests hits all too close to home, leading him to call for an early leak of information to those close to him.
In many ways, the Spotlight team attacks not only an institution but also people long viewed by the Boston community as substitutes for God Himself. Such a daunting undertaking requires both courage and tremendous skill, both of which all four reporters possessed in spades. Though “Spotlight” might bring to light some jaw-dropping facts that could make anyone doubt the goodness of humanity, it does celebrate the power of a free press in such an exultant, jubilant fashion that it’s hard to leave feeling anything but inspired.
“Spotlight” is playing at a/perture cinemas this week. You can find showtimes and get tickets HERE.