Written by: Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy
Directed by: Tom McCarthy
When I was a counselor, working with troubled youth, I became aware of how ubiquitous sexual abuse of children really is.
Certainly nothing I’d learned in textbooks could have prepared me for this. I talked to children who were sexual abuse survivors. Even worse, I talked to kids who — according to my intuition — were being molested, but they weren’t speaking up and there wasn’t enough evidence for an investigation.
Perhaps the cruelest part of it all was how often molesters targeted children who were already struggling: kids who’d been abused before and children of parents in crisis. It seemed that these twisted bastards had an uncanny instinct for zeroing in on kids who were particularly vulnerable.
This film dramatizes the true story of the Spotlight Team — Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton), Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Ben Bradlee (John Slattery), Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and their editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) — who won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing sexual abuse by Catholic priests.
The Spotlight Team investigates a couple of these cases, having no idea how deep the rabbit hole will go. They unravel a conspiracy of silence within the church, in which priests have been “treated” and shuffled off to another parish to repeat their crimes. The victims tended to have been vulnerable in some way, children in low-income neighborhoods and kids coping with their parents’ divorces.
In the process, the team also interviews adult survivors of abuse, deeply damaged by the violation, their loss of faith in the church, and the toxic web of silence which has held them hostage for decades. In several unforgettable scenes, Joe Crowley (Michael Cyril Creighton) entrusts Sacha with his story. At age 12, trying to come to terms with the realization that he was gay, he’d been exploited by a priest who’d talked to him honestly about his sexuality. The confused, frightened boy had desperately wanted someone to tell him his sexual orientation was OK. What a devastating moment, revealing the labyrinthine ways society shames and isolates children — especially those seen as outsiders — making them vulnerable to predators.
Despite the disturbing topic, I highly recommend this movie to everyone. First, because it shows us real journalism, a profession that is under siege in the US right now. Secondly, it’s an outstanding film. It doesn’t glamorize the painstaking, tedious process of investigative journalism, yet there is never a dull moment. As members of the team pursue leads, unravel clues, and cope with the emotional repercussions of these revelations, as a film viewer, it’s impossible to look away. This is a tribute to the rich, well-paced script and outstanding performances across the board.
Spotlight also does justice to a complex issue. This is not a film about good and evil, but about myriad shades of gray, perpetrators of a horrific crime — many of whom had undoubtedly been molested as children, a cruel cycle — along with decent men who stood by and did nothing and others who tried to speak out but became jaded after the truth had been repressed for decades. Perhaps it challenges us to examine ourselves, considering whether we waste opportunities to speak out against injustice and advocate for children, who are often too vulnerable to speak for themselves.