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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Feb 15, 2016

Spotlight Movie Review: Great Movie About Investigative Journalism On Sexual Abuse In The Catholic Church

‘SPOTLIGHT’ is a powerful film about investigative journalism that will remind you of “All the President’s Men” (about Watergate). It shows the obstacles experienced by news people to get to the bottom of the truth while battling other mundane things like budget cuts and deadly deadlines. This kind of a serious, non-escapist, well made film that tackles a socially relevant topic often bores ordinary viewers so be sure to watch it right away before it’s pulled out of the theaters.

Set in 2001 mainly at the newsroom of The Boston Globe, we meet the Spotlight team with Michael Keaton as Editor Walter Robinson and his researchers-reporters: Mark Ruffalo as Mike Rezendes, Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer and Brian Darcy James as Matt Carol. All these actors are superb, but the characters here are all secondary to the story and the process of the investigation they conduct, so those who got nominated in the Oscar are understandably all under the best supporting category.

And this is reason why they won the Best Ensemble Acting of the entire cast in the SAG or Screen Actors Guild. Very deserving. Also to be commended for their excellent support are Liev Schreiber as the new senior Globe editor who initiated the investigation, John Slattery as the deputy managing editor and Stanley Tucci as the lawyer of many of the victims who is initially hostile but later cooperates with the reporters.

The hard working reporters are up against the Catholic Church, which is very powerful in Boston that has many Irish and Italian Catholic immigrants, making up one half of the city’s population. They uncover sexual abuse among the clergy which was covered up through the years. It starts with a few violations but after connecting all the dots and interviewing more victims and lawyers, the number of cases grew from isolated ones to a flabbergasting 90 cases of sexual abuse or about 6 percent of all the priests in the archdiocese.

It confirms that priests who had child molestation charges brought against them were merely transferred to other parishes and their abuses were systematically covered up by Cardinal Bernard Law (Len Cariou), who’s the highest authority in the Boston Archdiocese. With their higher ups protecting them, no doubt some priests were undaunted in continuing their sexual assaults on gullible and vulnerable young men since they think they are outside of the law as no one would dare fight the Catholic Church.

The story was finally written and published in 2002, won the Pulitzer Prize and started a quake that was felt around the world, opening the floodgates with several more victims coming out to tell their own sad experiences in the hands of preying priests. What makes Director Tom McCarthy’s treatment of the film commendable is that it’s very low key. He doesn’t exploit the potentially tear jerking situations of the victims and mine them for sudsy melodrama. But as Phil Slaviano (Neal Huff), the leaders of a victims’ support groups says, “rape is not just physical abuse. It is also spiritual abuse as it takes away a child’s trust and faith.”
In one scene, Rachel as Sacha visits the home of an accused pedophile priest, who seems to be only too happy to recount his own story, then his sister comes along and pulls him back inside their house and shoos Sacha away. The director wants to present and chronicle the cases as clinically as possible, breaking down the walls of secrecy but without sidelining the gravity of the crimes that they’re investigating. To begin with, the movie is told primarily from the perspective of the dedicated reporters searching for truth and justice, and not the priests or the victims. We are not taken to a church or a courtroom but the newsroom is used as the chief location.

We know of many documentaries about the Roman Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal but the movie wisely confines its scope on what happened in Boston. It is not against religion or the Catholic Church but against those priests who become sexual perverts and their superiors who cover up their wrongdoings. Even in more ancient times, we hear of popes who have concubines and commit crimes, but the Church persisted through 2000 years. We can still be faithful to our spiritual beliefs and include all priests in our prayers for them to stay true to their vocation. As they say, hate the sin but love the sinner.