Movie Review: SPOTLIGHT

Based on the gripping true story of the Boston Globe journalists who uncovered widespread corruption and pedophilia within the Catholic Church, comes Spotlight; a powerfully moving film with a heart of justice.

Directed by Tom McCarthy and starring Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Michael Keaton, Spotlight is gearing up to be one of the best releases this Summer. Although not scheduled for release in Australia until the end of January, I was lucky enough to attend a recent preview screening, held at Newfarm Cinemas in Brisbane.

While its no surprise that audiences have been incredibly moved by the film adaptation of this incredible real-life story, as a viewer, I found myself surprised and impressed by far more than just the storyline. In particular, I feel it worth mentioning that the lengths that Spotlight’s writer, director and cast went in order to pay justice to their portrayal of this highly publicised case are essential to the integrity and success of the film.

While Singer (Writer) and McCarthy (Director) “spent months conducting interviews with journalists, victims and others at the centre of the story” (1) in order to understand every angle and ensure the film felt grounded and real, many members of the cast also went the extra mile; as revealed by the real-life Spotlight team themselves.

“Rachel would ask me, ‘How long were your fingernails in 2001? Did you eat lunch in the Globe cafeteria or would you bring it from home?’ female journalist Sacha Pfeiffer revealed. ‘Would you change your clothes when you went for a walk? How much did you tell your family? What did your husband think? Did you ever get frustrated?’” (1)

Likewise, Ruffalo also spent much time shadowing the real-life Mike Rezendes, even following him around his workplace! This thorough investigation on the part of all involved has certainly paid off, giving the film an extremely realistic feel, and unsurprisingly, leading to rave reviews worldwide. In fact, just recently, Spotlight was nominated for 6 Academy Awards, and it’s little wonder!

What is surprising however, is how Spotlight also manages to subtly explore the struggles of people and their faith, as they wrestle to acknowledge how a religion which meant so much to them and their families, has also forsaken and exploited so many others. One particularly memorable example of this is the scene in which Pfeiffer and Ruffalo, after a particularly hard day on the case, sit down on her porch to debrief. Talking candidly about their own involvement with the Catholic Church, Pfeiffer asks what it was that made Rezendes stop attending. “The typical reasons,” he replies flippantly, before adding, “but I always thought I’d go back…” It is at this point that we begin to see the truly heartbreaking effect that the case has had on Rezendes; the internal struggle as he digs deeper and deeper into the legal records of the children harmed by the very people, the very institution, that he once revered so highly. I’m sure I speak for many when I say, that for anyone who has grown up in the church or currently attends – Catholic or otherwise – this is a particularly moving and confronting scene. It is a gut-wrenching moment, and we see it play out in Rezendes, as he looks at Pfeiffer and says sadly of his faith: “Something cracked.” Shortly afterward, Rezendes is seen walking into a nearby church, having been drawn in by the sweet carols of a childrens’ choir. In that brief moment, as the gentle sound of ‘Silent Night’ drifts through the air, we see the anguish on his face, but we also know that he will keep fighting until justice is served.

While critics have noted the many outstanding performances by the film’s cast, it was scenes such as those above, that cemented Mark Ruffalo in my mind as the standout performer. Put simply, there is an energy and depth to his portrayal of Rezendes that is incredibly powerful.

Image source

Another key strength of Spotlight, aside from its main cast, is the stories of the survivors, which give a deeper understanding to typical questions often asked in society such as, ‘Why didn’t you say anything?’, ‘Why only come forward now?’ and ‘Surely if this many priests were involved more people would know by now?’

One particular scene that I felt was soberingly powerful was one in which Sacha (McAdams) first interviews a survivor named Joe; his warm, raw and honest performance one which really injects some heart and soul into the film (an incredible performance by Michael Cyril Creighton, given the brief screen time). Sharing about his sexuality as a gay survivor, Joe opens up about how the abuse effected him. Did he know he was gay as a child, Sascha asks? Yes, he says, but to have his first experience at the hands of a pedophile priest…this was something that had always haunted his memories. When asked if he’d told anyone about the abuse, Joe half-jokingly quips back: “Like who? A priest?” It is just one scene in which you truly get a feel for the devastation, confusion and sense of abandonment that many of these children – now struggling adults – experienced at the hands of those who should have been their protectors and mentors.

“When you’re a poor kid from a poor family, and a priest pays attention to you, it’s a big deal. How do you say no to God?”

Furthermore, the fact that this abuse was swept ‘under the rug’ by the church as well as lawyers and the media, only made for a more devastating reality. After all, this is not just a ‘story’. These are the real experiences of thousands of children. Beyond the storyline, Spotlight also does a wonderful job of paying tribute to the power of indepth journalism, both fascinating and inspiring its viewers to acknowledge the lengths these journalists went in order to uncover the truth – particularly in a pre-internet boom age. Ending with a black screen filled with states and cities in which sexual abuse amongst the Catholic Church has been uncovered, I was shocked to see Australian towns such as Wagga Wagga and Toowoomba included. It was a sobering reminder that child sexual abuse knows no boundaries.

Although slow moving at times, overall, Spotlight is an incredibly powerful and brutally important film; one which left many of us sitting quietly in the theater, reflecting and contemplative, long after it had finished.

If this post has brought up trauma for you, you can contact Lifeline via 13 11 14.

Tom McCarthy
Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams
Biography, Drama, History
Running Time:
128 mins
Release Date:
28 January 2016
 Note: Many thanks to Entertainment One for organising this preview screening at Newfarm Cinemas!
To view more upcoming movies, click on the links above.
Source 1: Entertainment One Press Kit: Spotlight

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