Year Released: 2015
Directed by: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci Lieve Schreiber, Billy Crudup
(R. 127 min.)
Genre: Mystery and Suspense, Drama
“They knew and they let it happen!” Mike Rezendes
It’s not the crime. It’s the cover-up. This well-paced docudrama follows an elite cadre of journalists as they uncover decades of sexual abuse hidden by the Catholic Church.
Hollywood forgoes suspense, flamboyant characters, or melodrama and lets the shocking facts speak for themselves. And they are shocking enough in themselves, like ripples in a pond that relentlessly move to the shore in an ever widening arc of corruption.
It is probably the understated and no nonsense approach that makes Spotlight so effective. For once, we do not feel like Hollywood is preaching at us. Much of this tone is set by the team of journalists themselves.
They are hardworking, but hardly the obsessed zealots we often find on screen, such as the reporter who worked so hard to find the infamous Zodiac killer in San Francisco. In that 2007 film, crime reporter Paul Avery, who Richard Roper so aptly describes as “a brilliant, rebellious, self-destructive manic-depressive drug addict/alcoholic who is his own worst enemy,” is played with ironic self awareness and sly relish by Robert Downey Jr., whose own past problems with illegal drugs are well known.
Nor are the reporters the zany and eccentric characters that are featured in the recent release The Big Short, which labors to teach us esoteric economic minutiae with a lot of broad comedy.
In fact, when the new editor for The Boston Globe asks the cadre of elite investigative reporters to look into a series of alleged molestations by a single priest, they are not too interested. The Spotlight crew would rather finish up the final details on their piece about negligent construction sites than start investigating a priest who has allegedly molested children in six different parishes over the last 30 years. They demure even when Marty Baron (Live Schrieber) dangles the juicy tidbit that Boston’s Cardinal Law (Len Caruou) has known about this for 15 years and done nothing.
Boston is not Miami, where their new editor last worked. In that warm and laid back town most records are public. Not so in frigid and uptight Boston, where the documents on the Catholic Church are sealed.
The Spotlight team is not only aware of the power of the Catholic Church in Boston, but they also realize that the majority of their readership is Catholic as well. They are a lot like napping hounds that have to be aroused and prodded at first, but once they get the scent, their natural instincts kick in.
The pattern of abuse and cover-ups begin to haunt Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), who still lives at home with her very devout Catholic grandmother. She worries what her grandmother would think if she were to know about the investigations, but on the other hand is more than a little unnerved when she attends church with her and sees all the young children singing in the choir.
Without resorting to melodrama, with just a few deftly handled sketches, the film reveals the lasting horrors of the abuse, layer by layer. Many of the victims were from poor families without father figures. Perhaps Phil Saviano (Neal Huff), who was abused at age 11, captures its best:
When you’re a poor kid from a poor family and when a priest pays attention to you, it’s a big deal. How do you say no to God?
Once on the scent the Spotlight team finds tentacles of corruption everywhere, from the lawyers who quietly paid off victims to officials at Catholic schools. Even the Boston Globe itself had buried the story years earlier.
Those tentacles are exposed finally. Many more victims come forth from around the world as the screen is filled to overflowing with all the cities across the world where abuse was reported. Even Cardinal Law is forced to resign.
Yet, the catharsis in not complete. Just two years after his resignation, Cardinal Law was appointed as Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Marie Maggiore in Rome, we learn as the final credits roll.
Maybe this film will stifle further miscarriages of justice. Yet Spotlight is certainly worth seeing, even if that does not happen. Not to be missed.
The city of Boston, as well as the Catholic Church itself, is almost a character itself in this drama. The hierarchical and formal structure of the city is a fortress that the reporters must breech in their quest for truth. But breech it they do, with persistence and integrity.
Let’s help them celebrate the work that garnered them The Globe the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
Feel free to help them vanquish our Boston Cream Pie, rich and decadent like the abusers they ultimately take down.
Boston Cream Pie
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 (1 ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup confectioners' sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons hot water
Prep 45 m
Cook 35 m
Ready In 1 h 20 m
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour one 9 inch round cake pan.
Beat the flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, salt, 3/4 cup milk, shortening, 1 egg, and 1 teaspoon vanilla at low speed, scraping bowl constantly for 30 seconds. Beat on high speed, scraping bowl occasionally for 3 minutes. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 to 35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean. Remove from the pan and let cool on a wire rack.
To Make The Cream Filling: In a 2 quart saucepan, mix 1/3 cup of the sugar, the cornstarch and salt. Stir in the milk gradually and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir 1 minute. Stir at least 1/2 of the mixture slowly into the egg yolks. Return egg yolk mixture to the saucepan and boil and stir for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in the 2 teaspoons vanilla. Let cool to room temperature.
To Make Chocolate Glaze: Heat the chocolate and butter or margarine over low heat until melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the confectioners' sugar, and vanilla. Stir in the water, one teaspoon at a time, until glaze is of desired consistency.
To Assemble the Cake: Split the cooled cake in half to make 2 thin layers. Fill the layers with the filling. Then spread the chocolate glaze over the top. Refrigerate any leftover cake.