It is often a hard choice deciding which film to review in any given week, standing outside my local cinema I was presented with two possibilities; The Danish Girl or Spotlight. Did I want to write lazy hack jokes about transgender people or kiddy-fiddler priests? Or more to the point, which group of politically correct dunce’s emails did I want to fill my junk box this week? In the end I decided to go with the film about the Boston Catholic rapists partially because technically I am Catholic (much like the mafia once you are in you can’t get out) and partially because my mother always taught me to punch up – advice that would see me severely beaten several times throughout my public school years.
Spotlight portrays the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize winning investigation into the child sex abuse cases in Boston and the institutionalized cover-up by the Catholic Church. For those of you sitting at the back of the class not paying attention, the film isn’t a comedy. Or if it is, it isn’t a very good one. The film stars still on a roll Mark Rufflo, the often underutilized Rachel McAdams and Michael Keaton who still looks ecstatic that hipster Jesus Alejandro G. Iñárritu gave his career the Lazarus treatment. Each actor gets an opportunity to shine, but subtlety and understatement are the words of the day.
There are certain directors that after seeing their previous films I endeavour to see their future works based on their name alone (Fincher, Tarantino, Bay, Jonze), well today the list got a new name added; Tom McCarthy. The things that put Spotlight above other dramas are its pacing and momentum. The film starts off as a slow boil, but gradually picks up pace and never stops gaining intensity until the credits roll. Another thing I admired was McCarthy’s restraint; a lesser director would have opened the movie with children singing carols under the watchful eye of a priest. We actually don’t see the inside of a church until forty minutes in, instead spending all of our time with journalists, lawyers and church officials all dressed in suits and ties. When there is a church scene we see it from the view of the blue collar worker and it is shot to convey just how much religion means to poorer people. The juxtaposition works well to deliver the first of many gut punches; faith in God and the church is all these people had, and you couldn’t have debased it more. Also the subtle touch of having a church visible in the background of many outdoor scenes, omnipresent and lurking, like some villainous stalker or nefarious Santa Claus.
Being launched during Oscar season and depicting taboo subjects it would have been easy for Spotlight to play down the horrors that were perpetrated using softer language like “molestation” or “abuse”, but instead refuses to do so describing in unflinching detail exactly what occurred. Yeah this was a hard one to watch, when the 9/11 attacks occur in the movie it’s almost a moment of levity, ‘hooray now we can forget about children getting raped for five minutes to watch 9/11 happen! Are we having fun or what?’
Spotlight lays most of the blame at the feet of the Catholic Church, and it’s easy to see why. The institutionalized hiding of child sex abuse scandals by the Catholic Church still occurs today, one has to look no further than that coward Cardinal Pell hiding at the Vatican from the Royal Commission. Personally however I blame God. Not once during the Ten Commandments does he say “thou shalt not rape”, not good enough God. Surely you could have added it as a footnote to the adultery one? Or got rid of the one about coveting others stuff, that’s the basis for how capitalism works you Red. Or here’s an idea, replace the one about not worshipping other gods, that’s a little self-indulgent. You know who needs constant attention and praise? My bitch ex-girlfriend, and you don’t want to be like her.
Well after that last paragraph, I’m probably going to be struck by lightning, so if this is to be my last review at least I ended on a high note. If you have the stomach for some of its heavier themes, Spotlight is a great movie.