It takes a village to raise them. It takes a village to abuse them. That's the truth of it.

It takes a village to raise them. It takes a village to abuse them. That’s the truth of it.

 

Believing isn’t easy. Sometimes belief will face unfair persecution, and sometimes belief will be tested. The world can align itself in front of the believers with stones in hand, and have no quarrel over who will cast the first one. However, history is riddled with these sorts of challenges to the devout. What is far harder to prepare for is the pain that can come from inside the institution itself.

Steeling oneself for an outside onslaught is easy; learning that your own community has let you down is something far more difficult to endure, far more difficult to hear, and sometimes far more difficult to expose.

SPOTLIGHT begins with a new editor taking the reigns at The Boston Globe. As Marty Baron (Liev Schrieber) begins to gauge the talent at his disposal, he casts a keen eye at the team dedicated to “Spotlight” – long form, deep investigative journalism that can take up to one year dedicated to uncovering a single story. Spotlight is a small department headed up by Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton) and filled out by Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), and Matt Carroll (Brian D’Arcy James).

Upon meeting the team, Baron tasks them with looking into reports of sexual abuse within the Boston archdiocese of The Roman Catholic Church. A small story filed by The Globe has Baron curious, and he wants to “go deeper” as another classic journalism film so wisely says. During the course of the investigation, Rezendes reaches out to Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), who has been representing abuse victims for years with little to show for it. Garabedian is the first to underline how widespread the problem is, and just how many souls are enabling the criminal conduct.

The next indicator comes from Robinson’s meetings with attorney Eric MacLeish (Billy Cruddup). As Robinson and Pfeiffer question his involvements with defending accused priests and being involved in the cases they face prosecution on, they soon discover that time and again, these cases never made it to trial, instead continually settling out of court and keeping the names of the accused out of public record.

Finally, the team reaches out to a psychologist named Richard Sipe (Richard Jenkins). Sipe is able to provide them valuable data on the patterns of sexual misdeeds by members of the clergy, and the methods the Catholic Church employ to keep the criminals in position to continually offend. The Spotlight team poses the theory to Sipe that they suspect sixteen priests in Boston parishes have committed these sorts of crimes over the past twenty-five years. Sipe immediately disagrees:

He believes the number of offenders to be much higher.

 

Stanley Tucci in Spotlight

 

The mark of a truly incredible film is when it can hang its hat on something its entire audience knows, and still stoke their emotional investment as it reminds them of every painful detail. Anyone who has even half an interest on SPOTLIGHT would remember the lid coming off the American Catholic Church scandal in the early part of the century; everyone would remember just how deep that hole went. However, when we listen to Rezendes finally blow over the breadth of the abuse, we are every bit as angry, frustrated, saddened, and bloodthirsty as we were all those years ago. The film has taken us by the hand and led us step by agonizing step through the whole painful story. It doesn’t tell us a single new detail, and yet finds a way to emotionally gut us.

Is it because we realize so much of the truth was hidden behind privilege? Attorney/client confidentiality…and an organization protecting its own. Markers put in place to preclude prosecution making it difficult to prosecute men who deserve the fullest extent of prosecution? It’s as though the priests themselves have stepped out of a confessional, and those that emerge from the other side of the screen just shrug and remind us that we can’t be told.

That leads us to the worse feeling: that we knew – that we all knew – and that we should have said something. Instead, we shrugged, we denied, we backed down. Whether it was our religion or not, these scores of heinous acts affected people we knew. We could have helped…but never did.

Watching a film like SPOTLIGHT, one wonders if we have collectively done ourself a great disservice by endangering this form of investigative journalism. The events of this story are fourteen years old, but they might as well be forty for how much the world of print news has changed. Not only would a department like this have trouble surviving nowadays (let alone the outlet they represent), but keeping a tight reign on the story while working on “telling it right” would be a herculean task. One of the roles of the fifth estate is to try a case in the court of public opinion – but even these cases need to be presented with care and have all the facts. Nowadays, people are arraigned, tried, and convicted in 160 characters before any facts are truly known – let alone all of them.

Between not supporting the institutions that employ them, and not having the patience to allow the stories to be fully investigated, we have dishonoured reporters like these and allowed various sorts of misdeeds to go unpunished.

There was a crisis of faith that unveiled itself in this century. It prompted some of us to question our community leaders, and others to question their very belief in God. That it happened at all is criminal. That it happened in the name of God is heinous. That it was covered-up by people both inside and outside the institution is vile. In the face of this, a few men and women did their job, and stood up for what’s right.

They comforted those who mourned, they brought satisfaction to those who hungered and thirsted for righteousness.

 

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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