A remarkably large part of the depiction is spent watching the famous faces of the cast undertaking a heady amount of journalistic footwork, as they begin to look into and then heavily investigate the cases of child abuse by the Catholic Church in Boston. As a result, the sheer weight of context carries the viewer through the necessarily procedural groundwork that the newspaper and cinematic ‘story’ require. This not only works to bolster the credibility of the portrayal but supports the theme of strong grass roots journalism that the film champions. In a time where a spreadsheet was a novel way to collate data, the number of interviews and flights that the ‘Spotlight’ team must carry out to physically document the facts seems almost quaint in our modern digital age.
Ruffalo and Keaton grabbed the headlines over the award-season and, in an ensemble cast, this is unsurprising as they play the characters that are given the most human storylines outside of work. Ruffalo’s irate speech that caught everyone’s attention in the trailers to the film is the most heart-rending display of emotion by the people who had to treat this horrific discovery as just part of their job and had to attempt to compartmentalise their personal feelings.
However, it’s Stanley Tucci, in an understated version of this process that is sublime. He plays the lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, who was representing a huge number of sexual abuse plaintiffs, against all the odds. He claims he hasn’t got married because his job is too important – putting the work/life balance issues seen by the ‘Spotlight’ team rather in the shade. One of the greatest moments in the piece is when Ruffalo visits him to deliver the final newspaper which represented months of investigation. As Ruffalo goes to leave he sees two young children playing in an office. Garabedian opens the office door and explains the parent is another victim. It distils, more so than in the newsroom, the ongoing treadmill of collateral damage caused by these priests that continues to this day. Ironically, the newspaper piece is something of a Pyrrhic victory. It’s only the start and it’s that implication and the way McCarthy tells it which is the chest-tightening victory for the film.
The victims or ‘survivors’ of the abuse are the performances which heighten the reality of those buried events of the past. It’s clearly a horrible subject, but the cases here are individualised for the audience to understand their effect on a startling range of people. As they are interviewed, it allows each person’s case to acquire context and gravity. Activists like Phil Saviano (Neal Huff) explore the frustration and the systematic nature of the problem.
The home entertainment extras are an interesting watch. There is a brief roundtable talk from the actual ‘Spotlight’ team. This is great for comparing the actors to their actual counterparts and hearing from themselves how the process took its toll. A nice featurette on the state of journalism is a well-chosen accompaniment to the main feature. There are three altogether, they are brief and they are informative.
Review by George Meixner
Spotlight is available on Blu-ray™, DVD and download from 23 May 2016.