“For a paper to best perform its function, it must stand alone.”–Marty Baron
In 2001, a new editor arrived at The Boston Globe, pushing the newspaper’s investigative team to look into the Catholic sex scandal in Massachusetts. Instead of assuming that the Catholic church’s hierarchy and the legal system are actually exposing the truth, editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) pushes Spotlight team leader Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton) to uncover what actually happened to hundreds of children at the mercy of dozens of priests. This is a film about truth, justice, faith, and community that will show the depths of human depravity and the heights of human courage.
When the team brings in Phil Saviano (Neal Huff), an adult alleging abuse by a Catholic priest when he was younger, they discover that the situation they have heard about may be more widespread than they ever imagined. With the help of attorney Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), the team (Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James) begins to interview various other individuals who claim abuse by Catholic priests throughout Massachusetts.
The Globe’s pursuit of truth leads them to uncover a list of potentially ninety dangerous priests with hundreds of possible victims. The investigation is helped on by a psychiatrist (Richard Jenkins) and their “gut.” In so many situations, we can recognize the truth, we can even know what the truth is, but we don’t know how to pursue it. In this case, the Spotlight team puts its extensive experience and intuition to the singleminded task of uncovering what several powerful institutions, including the Archdiocese of Boston and its powerful Cardinal Bernard Law (Len Cariou), have worked so hard to sweep under the carpet.
While there will certainly be pushback about the release of this film, claiming that it’s “truth versus the church,” I found myself admiring the way that the filmmakers, namely writer/director Tom McCarthy artfully showed that the issue was actually a spiritual one- a powerful one- that needed to be brought to the light. These priests had power in their communities – especially over children who were abandoned, orphaned, or struggling to make ends meet. It’s an abuse of power that echoes a certain impeachment process, asking what power we attribute to others fairly and unfairly.
Mark my words, if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one. –Mitchell Garabedian
What soon becomes apparent to the crack team of reporters is that it’s not just the priests abuse, but also the church/law working to cover it up. There must be hundreds, thousands even, of everyday citizens who know that something is not right with the local parish (like the cops depicted in the opening vignette) and who choose to do nothing. Is it ignorance? Is it laziness? Is it fear?
Martin Niemoller said, about the rampaging Nazis in the 1940s,
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
In one powerful scene, one of the reporters realizes how close to home the danger is and sticks a sign to his own children on the refrigerator, warning them. Suddenly, it’s not just a story but the danger to one’s own family that makes this something that can’t be dismissed, ignored, or merely argued about. Suddenly, it’s crucial that the truth be spoken, as more than an acknowledgment but as a pursuit of justice. They recognize that it’s not just priests, lawyers, or cops who stayed silent but also neighbors, siblings, and extended families who stayed silent.
I don’t think I should talk about it. – unnamed police officer.
I think you should. -Sacha Pfeiffer
Jesus said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). It’s hard to know what lasting impact the truth had on those who were already victims, but the work of the Spotlight team – and the honesty of those who had been abused – surely set things in motion that allowed others to be freed from hiding ashamed. And who knows how many children were kept safe from being molested because these men and women took a stand?
Acted subtlety and intelligently by the ensemble cast, the pacing of the story stays on point without dragging. While some ‘investigative’ films prove to be mind-numbingly dry, the complexity of the issue and the depth of the actors assembled makes this a ‘must-see’ film – especially those tracking the Oscars. Having applauded the way that 12 Years a Slave showed historical racism and warned of the impacts of slavery today, Spotlight shows us a vision of the past that should inform our present. If we want to keep our children safe, if we want the truth to be available to all, we must be prepared to fight through the smokescreens to bring justice and peace out into the light.