Film Review: Spotlight

More often than not, we watch films to laugh, or to scare ourselves, or to escape; basically we just watch them to be entertained, however we like them to do that. Everynow and then though, we watch films that open our eyes to the world around us and shock us, but in a good way. That’s just the kind of film Spotlight is.

One of the big nominated films of the current awards' season, Spotlight tells the true story of The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer-winning investigative journalism team ‘Spotlight’ who, in early 2002, published their findings on one of history’s biggest cover-ups, exposing widespread child abuse in the Church by over 70 local priests. The team worked tirelessly against the powers that be – time and corrupt counterparts among them – to bring the momentous story to light.

Spotlight is gripping filmmaking at its finest. Since the historic story ousted the church and exposed the atrocities taking place behind closed chapel doors, the notion of Catholic priests molesting young boys has seeped its way into our social conscience. It has become something not uncommonly alluded to and even joked about in popular culture. In this sense, this film is not telling us a story we don’t already know, so why watch it?

Film has a unique ability to spotlight (my pun game is strong) issues, and give us insight and understanding we couldn’t otherwise gain. We know the findings, but how about the work and journey of a small team of individuals which brought them to us? Only fourteen years after the events of the film, the worth of investigative journalism is on its way to extinction, and Spotlight shows us why this is not a good thing. So often we take information for granted, especially in a time when most content we consume and information we seek out is entertainment rather than news, produced by peers rather than experts. It makes us wonder, how could a story like this one be told in this age when the resources needed to tell it are all but gone?

A strong cast almost always (read: not always... think Valentine’s Day) means a strong film, and that is certainly the case here. Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci and Liev Screiber make for a pretty fantastic line up, but it is Ruffalo who takes the cake, giving arguably his most compelling performance to date as journalist Mike Rezendes. He provides the sense of urgency needed to keep us on the edge of our seat in a film that is otherwise heavy on the dialogue and light on the action, and has the emotional reaction to it all that other characters distance themselves from. While it is easy to get swept up in all the workplace drama, Rezendes’ personal reaction, which at times triumphs over his professional one, reminds us what it was that this team was truly dealing with.

Spotlight poses the question of how a story of this nature and magnitude can be possibly told. The answer is of course with facts. With names. With numbers. One of the film’s most powerful moments for me occurred just before the end credits rolled, as the parish place names where major abuses have been exposed since 2002, and several towns in my home country of New Zealand appeared. Spotlight is not just a film; it is a powerful, gripping and well-executed reminder of why it is so important to dig a little deeper, to educate ourselves and keep our eyes open to what is happening and the world around us.


Spotlight opens in UK cinemas January 29th

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