Spotlight is the large-screen adaptation of the real-life events regarding the titular, four-member investigative journalist unit at The Boston Globe newspaper. Or to be more precise, it is the story of the one specific case of Spotlight in early 2000s which led to the uncovering of the child sex-abuse scandal by Catholic priests and its cover-up by the Church that shook the world. This ground-breaking investigation eventually won Spotlight team a Pulitzer for journalism.
The film starts as the The Boston Globe hires a new editor, a Jew called Marty Baron, an earnest man who soon upon joining requests the Spotlight to investigate the case of priest John Geoghan after reading about him in a column in the Globe. According to the column, the child-related sex crimes committed by John Geoghan were not only known to the Cardinal (archbishop of Boston) but he did absolutely nothing to stop them, let alone punishing him. Baron is baffled as to why was so grave a matter not pursued further.
As the Spotlight team, made up of an editor and three reporters, begins the investigation, everybody is horrified to find out that Geoghan’s case was not a one-off, and they begin to see a pattern. A priest is accused of molesting and raping children, and is then shifted by the Church to some other parish in order to protect him from legal punishment or wrath of child’s parents. The pattern is prevalent throughout the entire archdiocese of Boston. The Spotlight team finds itself amidst a legal and ideological battle between the Globe and the Church which presents its own dilemmas.
In an era when journalists are reviled as “news-traders” (to thunderous applauses) and “presstitues” by politicians and common people alike, Spotlight is an eloquent reminder of what journalism can do and why good journalism is still the greatest weapon the people possess against the evils present in the system.
Especially in India, where the word “media” is associated with everything that is wrong with the country, this film should come as an eye-opener to people who paint every journalist with the same brush. If one journalist is found to be corrupt, everybody else is automatically assumed to be made of the same stuff, unless their ideological affiliation matches yours – in which case, voila, they are honesty personified! While not quite up to the level of Spotlight, one can find several fantastic investigative stories carried by journalists right here in India.
Coming back to the film, the sequences inside The Boston Globe’s office in Spotlight, with shots of newsrooms, editorial board meetings, and actual investigations are supremely well-done. The film demystifies a lot of what happens inside a newspaper office succinctly and what journalists, especially those who take on something as mighty as the Catholic Church, have to go through to bring out stories that an average reader may not even read.
Overall, Spotlight is simply superb. It manages to be engrossing without trying to be overly thrilling. There are no explicit scenes, no passionate monologues, no vituperations (it is pretty fair as regards the Church, and that explains why the Pope wasn’t much offended) and storytelling is subtly brilliant – similar to some of the good European films one might have seen. Even the piano-dominated background score by Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings composer) is pleasingly subdued and perfectly blends with dialogue. Acting is largely excellent, with Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo being the star performers as the big three of Spotlight.
One minor issue with the film might be the sluggish pacing, but subsequent viewings tend to allay it, and soon it does not seem sluggish at all – more like comfortably paced. Like the first two seasons of AMC’s splendid TV drama Breaking Bad, this sort of pacing appears deliberate, for emphasis perhaps. But even taking it in account, a typical viewer probably won’t absorb it properly at the first go. And the movie deserves repeated viewings regardless. It is that good. A stunning insight into not just the cruddy world of sex-starved child-preying clergymen and the immense power of the Church which shields them, but also into the strength of journalism and investigative journalism in particular, the excitement, the risks, and the occupational hazards that come bundled.