When I received my copy of Spotlight in the mail, I told my wife I’d be staying up late to watch it and that I recommended her going to bed early. She is a great fan of good dramas, and this one is garnering all sorts of awards, but I knew the very nature of this film with its deeply disturbing story would keep her up afterwards. And many nights after that. I like to think of myself as a hardened film veteran. I’ve watched all sorts of horror films where terrible things happen to its characters. I’ve watched real-life dramas about the most awful aspects of human nature. I’ve binged on the Holocaust. I like to think I let it all roll off of me. There just movies, after all.
But after the credits rolled on Spotlight, I walked quietly into my daughters room, watched her sleep peacefully and said a prayer. Then I sat down and cried.
In 2002 The Boston Globe under their investigative unit, Spotlight, published numerous articles documenting the sexual abuse of hundreds of minors by Catholic priests and the far reaching cover-up by its high clergy. This film is a look into how the newspaper discovered, investigated, and reported that story.
It's easy to compare Spotlight to All the President’s Men as both involve the nuts and bolts of reporters chasing a big story against ancient, monolithic organizations. But where All the President’s Men was full of '70s paranoia with clandestine meetings in parking garages and veiled threats, Spotlight is more subdued, carefully detailing the reporters as they uncover more and more of the scandal.
Director Tom McCarthy uses very little flash to tell his story. There are several long scenes where we just watch the journalists make phone calls, knock on doors, and quietly talk to the victims. There is little camera movement and the edits stay as unnoticed as possible. It's as if he’s saying this story is too important to embed with too much style and pizzazz.
It's difficult, actually, to separate the story from its telling. It is a tale that in equal measure fills me with absolute sadness and furious anger. That the Catholic Church, an institution designed to help the needy, to bring charity to the least of these, not only abused their most helpless patrons, but covered it up and in fact abetted these priests, enabling them to continue their abuse is evil at its most pure.
It is a story that needed to be told. That Spotlight tells it in the best possible manner is a thing of beauty. The cast - well, you could hardly ask for a better one - features Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James as the reporters, Michael Keaton as their editor, John Slattery as the managing editor, Liev Schreiber as editor-in-chief, and Stanley Tucci as a lawyer working with the survivors. Everyone of them does a magnificent job. Like the directing, these roles aren’t flashy, these are subtle, immaculately developed performances.
The actors have talked a lot about how they did a lot of research into their real-life counterparts, watching tapes of them on television and spending as much time with them on and off set as possible. This really comes through on film as the characters aren’t given a lot of back story and we see only slices of their lives outside of the story but they never feel like caricatures. But rather full realized people.
Spotlight is a extraordinary film documenting one of the darker periods in our history. That this abuse continues on to this day (the end credits begin with a tag documenting other cities in which abuse scandals have arisen which fills the screen for several pages) is a tragedy. That the Cardinal who over saw the cover-up for decades got a new appointment in Rome is downright shameful. That The Boston Globe was able to report this story so eloquently in a time in which newspapers are dying is amazing. Now this film is here and it deserves to be seen not only for the importance of what it says, but the magnificent way in which it says it.
Though I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to watch it again.
The Blu-ray looks fantastic. As mentioned the direction is not flashy, nor the cinematography, but its subdued style comes across beautifully. The audio as well is quiet, filled mostly with talking and background noise, but I never had any trouble understanding the dialog and the noise was never distracting.
There aren’t a lot of extras but what it has is quite good. Beyond the normal array of trailers and three-minute puff pieces there is a rather in-depth round-table discussion with the real journalists about their reporting. It gives a nice look into both the real life story and the actual people who uncovered it.
Spotlight is now available on Digital HD, and comes to Blu-ray combo pack, DVD and On Demand on February 23, 2016, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.