The film "Spotlight" was recently released, based on the true story of the Boston Globe’s investigation of the Boston Archdiocese’s willful coverup of child molestation and abuse. The reviews have been, like the movie itself, scattered.
This is, without a doubt, a shattering film. Well made and well acted, it nevertheless seems doomed to the obscurity that greets certain films that are just a little too difficult. The timing is bad --released as America heads toward Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year, audiences have every reason to turn towards something feel good and fun. The story is 15 years on, and something we all feel we know a little too well. As an audience, we don’t want to forget, we just don’t want to remember. And that, too, is part of this story.
Fifteen years is not so very long a time. In historical terms, it is everything and nothing. It isn’t yesterday, but it also isn’t a period piece. Yes, a decade and a half ago, a desktop computer really was a desktop computer ...a squat humming plastic box the color of dust. Cellphones were all -- mainly -- still flip phones then. But, it wasn’t that long ago. Yes, outside of Boston, few non-Catholics had ever heard of Cardinal Law and few Americans could find Afghanistan on a map. But this is not the sort of dramatic period piece that can coast over discomforting facts with the comfort of distance.
This is a frankly uncomfortable film about the most uncomfortable of stories. It becomes even more disturbing because this is a film about stories -- not just a story of wrong-doing, but a story about the stories people tell themselves when they try to avoid and forget the stories that we do not like to tell.
Pictured, left to right, the 'Spotlight' team of journalists at The Boston Globe: Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer, Michael Keaton as 'Robby' Robinson and Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes.
This is also, sadly, not just a Boston story, or an Irish story -- the Catholic population of Boston is so overwhelmingly Irish in origin that Catholic and Irish are almost synonymous in Boston -- or an American story or an Irish-American story. And it is certainly not a newspaper story -- although in a way it is a story about a journalism legend slow to die. It is a story about fear. And it is fear that shines most strongly through this otherwise murky film -- fear of change, fear of shame, fear of outsiders, fear of the cliquish power of the clubby-fraternity of Irish Catholic men who dominated Boston by the end of the 20th century, fear of sin, fear of silence, fear of revelation, fear of disbelief and fear of power.
Appropriately enough in a story about stories, the reporters dominate. And yet, these are not the black-and-white crusading journalists who have dominated movie screens since the 1930s -- instead they are troubling in their realism. (Mark Ruffalo, in particular, skirts the edges of neurosis -- yes he wants to tell the story, but he also wants to break the story. And he seems truly outraged by the fact that someone else might get the story first.) But it is Michael Keaton in his role as Walter “Robby” Robinson who embodies the almost queasy acceptance of complicity that systemic corruption forces on even the most unaware of bystanders. Robinson is an Irish-Catholic. Proudly Boston bred and proudly Boston true. A reporter. And yet, for much of the film remained oblivious of the wall of silence raised around the most heinous of criminals who have smilingly committed the least forgivable of crimes.
So ... worth watching? Yes. Some stories not only must be told but also must be heard. For Christmas? Maybe not.