Words by: Jack Dawson
I have to hand it to the film-makers of Spotlight, they managed to find a bigger real-life group of corrupt villains than the Wall Street bankers from The Big Short. Paedophile Catholic Priests have become one of the standard domestic boogeymen of the 21st century, a reputation that was first established in its modern widespread form thanks to the efforts of institutions like the Spotlight investigative team of the Boston Globe. And critics across the world who wanted to give Truth a dressing down got a nice convenient film to use as ammunition.
It’s the dawn of the new millennium, 9/11 has still to hit, and somewhere in Boston, a child is being abused by one or several Catholic Priests. With a new editor arriving (their first Jewish editor at that) at the Boston Globe, the investigative team Spotlight is given a new assignment, follow up on allegations of up to nine Priests sexually assaulting minors over several decades. What they uncover is an institution-wide scandal, which they then have to sit on until it’s the right time to tell people. Seriously, most of this film’s conflict is centered around having to wait to tell the general public, and it’s riveting.
The comparisons to Truth have come thick and fast when talking about this movie, and I can see why. Both films are about Investigative Journalists operating in America in the early 2000’s, coping with the digital institutions that are slowly destroying the reader base and credibility of the larger news institutions that they are a part of. But while Truth is an obnoxious teenager who doesn’t realise that everything they’re saying is complete tripe, Spotlight is a canny individual with an excellent poker face and years of experience under their belt. Both films feature an idealistic maverick who delivers a speech that rages at the system, but Spotlight has the maturity to then deflate the maverick and point out that idealism isn’t worth a damn without the cunning to put it into action.
And while Truth is about getting the story out as soon as possible, Spotlight really is all about waiting patiently. That’s a difficult thing to pull off in fiction, a story with appropriate pacing and high stakes should have a feeling of irresistible momentum. And yet by showing just how much research had to be done and how difficult gathering this kind of information is, Spotlight makes the act of sitting on a story nail-biting.
It achieves this through strong characterization and sympathetic leads, who all exhibit dynamic chemistry with one another. The actors who play the victims and perpetrators are all hauntingly accomplished; they are given some seriously difficult hoops to jump through which are never fumbled or missed. The style has been described as no-thrills, though I’d prefer the term ‘efficient’. This isn’t a story that requires excessive ornamentation, and the creeping horror and distaste that the story elicits are all the stronger thanks to the mundane surroundings.
I think the other reason Truth comes up in conversations about this movie is because it gives critics something to talk about. Efficient films like Spotlight that defy flashiness and execute their intent with workmanlike efficiency don’t leave a lot to say other than a hearty recommendation to go watch them.
If you want to see a film about idealists who fight for what they believe in by working within the modern world instead of against it, then check out Spotlight. If you want an angry takedown of morally presumptuous monsters in the guise of priests, then check out Spotlight.
If you want to see a good movie, then check out Spotlight.