"Spotlight" is a compelling movie. It shows us how one puzzle is solved, but asks us to solve another. Ostensibly it is a fine suspense drama about how Boston Globe reporters investigated and reported on clerical sexual abuses. But ultimately the film leads to a much more serious indictment of the institutional and social underpinnings of our society.
Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) is the new editor of the Boston Globe. He reassigns his crack investigative team (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian D'Arcy James) to track down the possible scandal of a pedophile priest. The long standing team had previously missed signs, failing to pursue an earlier lead.
Baron provides the team a fresh start, an outsider's view. He insists on looking at the case of the predatory priest not as a single instance, but as a marker for a system that failed to protect its practitioners and allowed abuse. Were church spokesmen, lawyers (including Billy Crudup and Stanley Tucci) and even the Cardinal (Len Cariou) helpful or hurtful?
Tom McCarthy's brilliant script and unswerving direction of the fine ensemble acting gently push us from the carnal indulgences of venal clergy to the heinous hierarchy protecting them. "Spotlight" shines light beyond the contaminated religious system which knowingly transfers predators to new hunting grounds. It illuminates the dry rot in the building's framing. Lawyers cut payoff deals to keep the abused minimally mollified. Government obscures records and declines to prosecute. Media overlooks cases involving the rich and powerful. A network designed to support the existing power structure, built on the backs of the ordinary, demands their compliant fealty or at least foggy denial as the price of salvation.
As former Globe National Politics Editor Don MacGillis observes, "At a time when the US public holds the news media in particularly low esteem, "Spotlight" demonstrates how important a newspaper can be in exposing vicious crimes that the church, the courts, and the police were all too willing to turn a blind eye to. Journalism has to play this watchdog role in other circumstances, too, where society's official guardians prove utterly inadequate to the task."
Fortunately film is able to do this, as well. Spotlight is not just the story of the church in turmoil. It is the story of the abuse and perversion of power that echoes all too familiarly through our entire society. The work of the Boston Globe reporters should be celebrated. But we should remember the warning of its editor Marty Baron. We should look at the failures of the entire system if we are to seriously pursue solutions.