“It’s like everybody knows the story,” muses a reporter to her colleague. “Except us.” The journalists of “Spotlight,” a legendary investigative unit at the Boston Globe, won a Pulitzer for a series of revelatory articles on the cover-up of child abuse in the Catholic Church, published in 2002.
But as one of the characters ruefully notes in the film Spotlight, all the pieces to the puzzle were at their fingertips. Spotlight, released in 2015 and available on DVD at the Whitehorse Public Library, is based on the investigation behind those consequential articles.
The Catholic Church exerts a huge influence over Boston institutions and the Boston Globe isn’t immune to its powers to obstruct, leading to an almost subconscious reluctance in the newsroom to challenge church authorities.
So when new editor Marty Baron (played by Liev Schreiber) suggests that a small item about priests accused of child abuse is worth looking into – Spotlight-worthy – he’s met with a lukewarm response. But, as the Spotlight crew comes to understand, the outsider’s curiosity has spurred them toward one of the biggest stories in the newspaper’s history.
Spotlight details the meticulous legwork that allows the reporters to transform speculation into fact, in the process showing how quickly technology has changed journalism.
Though it takes place only 15 years ago, scenes of the reporters digging through dusty files and rifling through old clippings could be set in the 1950s. Drama is created out of situations that could now be resolved with an email attachment. One of the real-life reporters admits in a special feature on the DVD that he’d never seen a spreadsheet before the abuse investigation.
But the journalists in Spotlight don’t need technology to illuminate the scandal at the heart of their investigation. They need to overcome the distrust of the victims, the fear and complacency of church insiders and their own failure to act on tips sooner. “What took you so long?” asks one character bluntly, but others are asking it wordlessly throughout the investigation. The question makes a mockery out of the reporters’ attempts to point fingers.
“"If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one," says crusading lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci).
Even the slick lawyer, who appears to be profiting from the secrecy of the Church, reveals he’s not so many poles apart from Garabedian. As Eric MacLeish, Billy Crudup anchors a key scene in the film, when he spills new information to a couple of members of the Spotlight team during a tense confrontation.
Spotlight, written by Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy, and directed by McCarthy, is cast with some of the finest actors working in film today, setting their charisma and intensity down low to portray real-life characters of such humility that they didn’t want that Pulitzer mentioned in the film. The quiet tribute to old-school journalism was amply rewarded with Oscars in 2015, including Best Picture.
As for the Spotlight investigation, one of the benefits of the new technology is that those famous articles are still available for anyone to read on the World Wide Web.