“You feel trapped because he has groomed you. How do you say no to God?” victim Phil Savino, played by Neal Huff, tells [reporter] Pfeiffer [Rachel McAdams] in one early scene. About abuse uncovered in Spotlight (Reuters.com)
Although Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, based on The Boston Globe‘s uncovering (2001-02) of the extensive incidence of childhood sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests, is more about the press’s process and less about the victims themselves, it’s made clear there’d be no story at all without the courageous testimonies of the men and women “so traumatized they can’t find the words to describe what was taken from them” (Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com).
A Brief Synopsis
Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press:
Spotlight refers to the paper’s four person investigative team responsible for exposing the systematic cover-up of the pedophilia of more than 70 local priests — editor Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson (Michael Keaton), reporters Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), and researcher Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James).
…’Spotlight’ pulls off the tricky feat of detailing the tick-tock of it all, while also giving due respect to the victims, the enablers and the believers.
It takes the arrival of a true outsider to challenge everyone to look a little harder at what’s happening. In this case, it’s the Globe‘s new editor in chief Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). One character who questions his arrival notes he’s an unmarried Jew who hates baseball. But most damning of all — he’s not a local.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap:
As the Spotlight team begins digging, they find more and more victims willing to speak out against more and more clergy, but Baron eventually realizes that the story is bigger that that: it’s about Cardinal Law (Len Cariou) and a culture of silence wherein parents were pressured to settle while guilty priests were shipped off to new parishes (and new victims) after a few months of therapy.
Praise for Spotlight‘s Realism
Ty Burr, Boston Globe: “Maybe it’s too early to decide whether ‘Spotlight’ is among the best Boston movies ever made — the accents are fine, the filmmakers seem to have the lay of the land — but in certain awful aspects it’s the most truthful.”
Dave Calhoun, Time Out: “It’s the story behind the story, and it’s the film equivalent of reading an especially thrilling New Yorker article: ruthlessly detailed, precise and gripping but never brash or overemotional.”
Justin Chang, Variety: “Where the film proves extraordinarily perceptive is in its sense of how inextricably the Church has woven itself into the very fabric of Boston life, and how it concealed its corruption for so long by exerting pressure and influence on the city’s legal, political and journalistic institutions.”
Justin Chang, Variety: “Many of the victims depicted here — like Phil Saviano (Neal Huff), head of a local survivors’ group, and Joe Crowley (Michael Cyril Creighton), who movingly recalls his treatment at the hands of a priest named Paul Shanley — function in a mostly expository manner, offering up vital but fleeting insights into the psychology of the abusers and the abused, but without taking pride of place in their own story.”
Dave Calhoun, Time Out: “There are just enough testimonies here and encounters with victims to make the human side of the story crystal clear without losing focus on the bigger picture of establishment corruption. It’s that all-too-rare beast: a movie that’s both important and engrossing.”
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: “Ultimately, ‘Spotlight’ never treats its subject matter as mere fodder for its journalists to cover; the horror of what’s being uncovered remains front and center, and as the closing credits roll, it’s the pain and suffering of the victims that stay with you as much as the bravery of the Globe staff.”
Beyond Spotlight: The Ongoing Story
Sheila O’Malley, rogerebert.com: “‘Spotlight’ also shows a deeper truth, the level of psychological trauma brought on by abuse, not just to the victims, but to horrified Catholics everywhere. ‘Spotlight’ takes faith seriously. An ex-priest turned psychiatrist is an important source, and when he’s asked how Catholics reconcile the abuse scandal with their faith, he replies, ‘My faith is in the eternal. I try to separate the two’.“
As reviewer Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter, concludes about the story’s scope beyond the past and well beyond Boston: “In the end, this material can’t help but be interesting, even compelling up to a point, but its prosaic presentation suggests that the story’s full potential, encompassing deep, disturbing and enduring pain on all sides of the issue, has only begun to be touched.”