In a time where journalism is reduced to sending out a keyword through the Google machine, it is refreshing to see how true and real journalism is done. And yes, I was tempted to use the term ‘was done’. It’s not completely dead yet. Thank god.
Spotlight is made in the vain of classics like “All The President’s Men” and focusses on a team of journalists that works a special department for the Boston Globe newspaper. The so-called ‘Spotlight’ column. They feature very specific and hard hitting topics that often reveal how crooked the world actually is. Right away we meet our main players Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton), Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carrol (Brian d’Arcy James). They build the team that works on the Spotlight articles. It’s 2001, just before 9/11, and the team is looking for new topics. The newspaper is getting a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), that stumbles upon an article saying that church ‘higher ups’ knew about an earlier child molestation case and did nothing to stop it. His instincts make him go to the spotlight team and asks them to snoop around a bit. At first the team looks at it a little sceptical but soon understand that there is more to discover. While working the case they uncover tons of people with personal stories about being molested in their past. The deeper they dig the more heartbreaking the truth becomes for everyone involved.
For someone like me it can be a little hard to relate to the material. I’m not a church person. Never was and probably never will be. That doesn’t mean that I don’t respect people who ‘believe’. It’s just that I chose to ‘believe’ my own stuff. To understand this film you have to set yourself into the heads of these people. Boston (or the US in general) is a very church dominated area. In some parts, to say something against church, is a sacrilege. It’s an institution that is defended no matter what. We get that impression in the film numerous times. The movie raises the question why people so viciously defend the church. It doesn’t give a real answer. From what I gathered it’s fear. But from what? The journalists we follow grew up in that environment and become more and more disillusioned with every detail they uncover. These are moments where the choice of actors really shines. Their eyes constantly say “how can all this be true?”. They have to face a hard truth and they accept it. Because there are hard facts covered by the material they uncover. By accepting that sad truth they decide to dig deeper and uncover everything possible. Even if it means to hold the story back until they got everything backed up, verified and ready. Journalism!
On a technical level the movie presents itself rather sober/matter-of-fact. There are no fancy animations or cg work. Its style is almost that of a documentary. From what is in the film the script is really tight. There is no moment where you think “come on… move along already!”. Everything flows well and the storytelling works. Every character also gets their a fair share of screen time and it’s used very well by all of them. We get lots of moments that show how hard actual journalism is and how much dedication it requires. But we also get our quiet moments where the characters contemplate about what they uncovered and how it affects them. Then there are moments where they interview victims. These are heartbreaking and frustrating at the same time. And by frustrating I mean that stuff like this actually happens. Scenes like these create an emotional response and that is one of the goals a movie like this should have. This movie even scores these goals. It works very well in these scenes. It makes you question why ‘Religion’ actually exists and why so many people believe in it when so many others use it to fuck up the people who trust them.
If there is a negative thing to say about it then it may be the rather ‘sober’ presentation. It is very down to earth and non-sensational. It’s very quiet. I guess the one thing I wanted was to have that one moment where the movie gets a little louder. A little more ‘in your face’. The movie talks about these horrible things and maintains that low matter-of-fact voice. Maybe that was a stylistic choice. I wanted to scream all the time. “How?!” or “Why?” or “Why is the church tolerating this!?”. The movie asks these questions but doesn’t necessarily answer them. Maybe there is no real answer. Though… I expected something like an answer. At least a hint.
I think it’s a good and important film, that came probably 10 years too late. Will it be a movie I’ll watch a couple of times? Surely not. But it’s a film you should see at one point or another.