“How do you say ‘no’ to God?”
That question, proposed by a victim of sexual assault by a priest in Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, hangs over the film like a dark cloud. Some people love the rain, and will look at that cloud and smile. Some hate the rain, and will groan at the sight of it. Most people will probably just pass it by, with the only true effect of the cloud coming from others complaining about it or praising it. Regardless of where you stand on that hot-button issue, that dark cloud can sometimes turn into a nightmarish storm.
Spotlight tells the story of how the Boston Globe reporters investigated the issue of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests throughout 2001 before their posting of a story in early 2002 that brought international attention – from the Catholic Church to the thousands of victims.
It’s obviously a touchy subject, but there’s arguably not a better worse place to hear this story than a newsroom. You’ll receive all the facts you want, but you’ll hear some disturbing information in the most blunt form possible.
That’s the way Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and the rest of this tremendous ensemble converse. Straight to the point without a second to waste. For a talky drama, that can prove troublesome as McCarthy (Up, Win Win) and Josh Singer (The West Wing, The Fifth Estate) get a little too swept up with the facts from time to time. An information overload with tongues moving at 100mph can get tiresome and confusing with names and jargon constantly flying around.
While that’s probably how those journalists communicated, and the screenwriters should be applauded for juggling all of this and still releasing a compelling and emotionally distressing script, this is one of those rare instances where the movie needed to be more Hollywood – or, to put it more bluntly, away from how the story actually played out. It’s kind of funny to suggest the journalism film would be improved if it didn’t tell the story exactly how it was, but oh well.
It did create an interesting atmosphere in that workplace. Stable but constantly on the cusp of exploding. The reporters the film follows are always on the move. They have their reasons for their maniacal movements – keep an eye on Ruffalo, who steals the show with his quirky and ridiculously determined character – but even when they’re sitting and they’re scribbling away at their notebook or their tongues are running a marathon, you wonder if they ever take a break. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rachel McAdams’ character was talking about priests in her sleep. Hell, even at a trip to Fenway, the reporters continue their work.
It’s inspiring if anything. Rachel McAdams being booted out of a library at closing time with her face deep in a book and Mark Ruffalo dashing across the street without looking both ways makes me feel pretty terrible about not studying for that science test in high school.
Their perseverance and belief in doing the right thing and getting out this long overdue story through constant interruptions by skeezy lawyers, bullet-dodging priests, and terrible hours for government facilities is what keeps this story alive. Their spirits only burning by the dim light of their journalistic passion. It’s only when that dark cloud discharges a bolt of lightning that our heroes get another piece of information to keep them going until they finally publish.