Before I get stuck into the nitty gritty of what was deemed the best film of 2015, ‘Spotlight’, I’d like to take a moment to appreciate what Michael Keaton has done in recent years.
Like a phoenix, he has risen from the ashes and has re-joined the spotlight (pardon the pun) by putting out two back-to-back stellar performances in ‘Birdman’ (2014) and most recently in ‘Spotlight’ (2015).
His newfound roles exemplify his incredible range; I can’t wait to see what he puts out next.
‘Spotlight’ follows the story of a specialist team of investigative journalists (known as Spotlight) working for the Boston Globe (a local newspaper). After Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) becomes the editor of the newspaper, the team at Spotlight shift their focus to exposing a child abuse scandal operating in a large number of Catholic parishes across the city.
After some sleuthing, the team realises they have opened Pandora’s box – that the scandal they have uncovered goes beyond their beloved city of Boston, and reaches all the way to the Vatican.
I watched this film as Cardinal George Pell underwent his Royal Commission hearing. While he was questioned about sexual abuse cover-ups I saw harrowing portrayals of real-life victims as they struggled to reconnect with the real world. ‘Spotlight’ showed me tails of suicide and sexual confusion, mistrust and fear all with incredible honesty and integrity.
Director Tom McCarthy did an excellent job of ensuring that the victims of sexual abuse were the focal point of the film, instead of religion as an institution. He pointed his lens at rebuilding a society betrayed by those considered most pious, instead of being defeated by an ugly past.
‘Spotlight’ goes on to show that even those who weren’t personally victimised by the Priesthood, were still damaged by the actions of the Church.
The four journalists working for the Spotlight division were each impacted in their own way by the scandal. Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) talks intimately about how he had hoped to one-day return to the Church, after spending most of his adult life away from the pulpit. Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) struggles to explain to her devout Mother why the people she trusts the most have come under immense scrutiny. Brian d’Arcy James (Matt Carroll) finds out a corrupt priest who has been protected by the Church is living just a block away from his home. Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) relives the memories of his childhood at a Catholic school with a much darker point of view.
McCarthy displays just how counter-intuitive it was for the journalists to shatter such an idolised institution in Boston. It’s as though Boston was a living organism, trying to reject a virus that had entered its very blood stream, before it shatters the hearts of all devout locals.
So far I’ve spoken about the importance of the Church being held accountable, and all religious institutions for that matter, although I believe the film highlights equally, how essential it is that all journalists are held to this same level of scrutiny.
Throughout the film, the Spotlight team discover they had been contacted in the past about the possibility of a sex scandal in Churches in Boston by the leader of a victim’s rights organisation, and a lawyer who specialised in settling cases of sexual abuse. However, neither of these attempts were deemed worthy enough to warrant full-scale investigation.
It was not until Marty Baron essentially forced the Spotlight team to investigate these cases that any headway was made.
McCarthy was being as critical of the responsibility of journalists as anyone else in the film. He understands the power of honest reporting, and through his film, hopes to inspire unbiased, truthful journalism.
During the film, I couldn’t help but wonder was it not for The Boston Globe, and more specifically the Spotlight team, would we even know the extent of child abuse in the Catholic Church today?
It’s a scary thought. It’s this very thought that makes the film so influential.
It takes a hushed topic and throws it out in the open; so far out in the open in fact, that it won the Oscar for best film and writing (original screenplay) alongside a total of six nominations.
Although my preference for best film was ‘Room’, this accolade is a testament to the social implications the film has had, and will continue to have until the Vatican ceases to systematically cover-up cases of abuse.