On January 6, 2002, the Boston Globe published a front-page story that exposed the scandal of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Massachusetts and around the world. You can read that story here. Spotlight is both the name of the Globe’s investigative reporting unit and the title of this outstanding film.
Michael Keaton portrays Walter “Robby” Robinson, editor of the Spotlight unit. He grew up in Boston and went to the Catholic high school across the street from the Globe’s building. His reporters, Mike Rezendes (Ruffalo), Sascha Pfeiffer (McAdams) and Matt Carroll (James) are working on a story on the Boston PD when the paper’s new editor Marty Baron (Schreiber) takes over.
There is a lawyer named Mitchell Garabedian who has 84 sexual abuse cases pending against the Boston Archiocese, led by Cardinal Bernard Law (Cariou) and his claims that he has proof that the Cardinal knew about what Father John Geoghan and other priests were doing and did nothing to stop it. That caught the attention of the Spotlight team and they were off and running. But not without many attempts to keep a lid on the scandal. It would be a long road to travel to finally uncover the evidence needed to run the story.
The problem with most films about reporting the news is that the story being reported on isn’t nearly compelling enough, or they are just not told well. In 1994 two such films were released. I Love Trouble starring Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts had a great story the reporters were attempting to break, but it wasn’t told well. The Paper, which starred Keaton along with Glenn Close, Robert Duvall and Randy Quaid was told very well, but the story they were reporting on wasn’t all that interesting. Here with Spotlight we have a true story that is engrossing, and it is told brilliantly.
Writer/director Tom McCarthy keeps the focus where it should be, on the incredible amount of work done by the Spotlight team; but he does it while telling the stories of the victims and the toll that this work is taking on the journalists. It’s a very tightly paced and directed film. It manages to provide great backdrops for the actors to work in front of. It allows the actors to stretch within their roles. This may be the best work Michael Keaton has ever done. The entire casting of Spotlight is close to perfection, including the use of an uncredited Richard Jenkins as the voice of a psychologist who is of immense help to the Spotlight team in his insight to what was going on within the priesthood and with their victims. Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and basically everyone else does a great job.
Before the closing credits run, there is a montage of factoids about the aftermath of this story being broken. There were a few that were either left out or that I missed. I’m sharing them here, and so they may be spoilers. You were warned.
Father John Geoghan, the priest at the center of the molestation cases that led to the unraveling of the cover-up was dismissed from the priesthood by Pope John Paul II in 1998. He was convicted of indecent assault and battery in January of 2002. In August of the following year he was murdered in prison.
Eric MacLeish was the lead attorney in a number of civil suits against the Boston Archdiocese. He left the practice of law for a time and in 2010 the Boston Globe published a story where MacLeish revealed that he himself had been a victim of abuse as a child at a boarding school in England. He showed the author of the story the scars on his back from when he’d been caned. Mr. MacLeish takes issue with how he was portrayed in the film in a Facebook post.