SPOTLIGHT. The clergy under the journalistic investigation

In terms of execution, “Spotlight” is the younger sibling of the film “All the President’s Men” with Redford and Hoffman.

Jan Dąbrowski

23 January 2024

The new editor-in-chief of “The Boston Globe,” Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), suggests a new topic to the editorial team. It concerns a Catholic priest who has been regularly molesting children for years in local parishes where he worked. To make matters worse, this likely happened with the knowledge of the local cardinal, who ignored the problem. The case is assigned to a four-member team of investigative journalists called Spotlight. However, they face a challenging task – the local community is strongly tied to the church, and the clergy are widely respected. As the journalists gather materials for their publication, they uncover the actual extent of pedophilic acts among the priests. The victims are silenced, and evidence is concealed. The attempt to expose the whole issue is met with strong resistance from the priests and their lay collaborators.

Tom McCarthy has achieved a great feat. Addressing such a sensitive topic easily leads to extremes. Priests cynically using their authority and influence to sexually exploit children on a large scale, all with the knowledge of their superiors.

The creators could have made a crusading film and portrayed Catholic clergy as greedy hypocrites, deviants in cassocks. Controversy sells, so such a production would have been profitable, and a condemning statement from the Vatican would ensure international publicity. Meanwhile, “Spotlight” is an incredibly balanced and realistic account of a true investigation. The subject itself is disturbing enough; there’s no need to embellish it with colorful narration. It is not an attack on the institution of the church as a whole, but rather on the clergy guilty of harming children and covering up the matter. The film even uses the term “system” to describe the practice of transferring harmful priests from parish to parish, where they continued their unhealthy habits. The initial focus on one priest turns out to be the tip of the iceberg.


In terms of execution, “Spotlight” is the younger sibling of the film “All the President’s Men” with Redford and Hoffman. Instead of Watergate, it’s a pedophilic scandal, but the rest is based on a similar pattern. Focusing on the investigation, gathering material, visiting the homes of those involved, and conducting lengthy interviews. Since the viewer – in both cases – witnesses events that actually took place, the creators don’t have to hide the ending of the story. The strength of these productions lies in the commitment of the characters to the case and its engaging course. And of course, the acting. Another similarity to “All the President’s Men” is that one of the editors is named Ben Bradlee Jr (played by John Slattery). This is an authentic character, whose father was… Ben Bradlee, the boss of the journalists portrayed by Redford and Hoffman covering the Watergate scandal (played by Jason Robards).

Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James play the members of the investigative Spotlight team. The first deserves recognition and attention. Michael Rezendes, as portrayed by Ruffalo, is a complex, intriguing character. He plays with nuances, facial expressions, nervous tics, and moves as if he is uncomfortable in his own skin. He also has the most combative attitude towards the issue, and his personal dislike for the clergy is evident. Besides him, from the cast, Stanley Tucci (playing a lawyer for the victims of abuse) stands out – as always. Perpetually busy and dissatisfied, buried in paperwork, he also fights for the case, but with completely different legal methods. The most colorful character, another great role for this excellent actor.

Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d'Arcy James, Michael Keaton and John Slattery play Boston Globe journalists in the film, Spotlight.

The rest of the cast performed well in their roles, and there’s not much more to add on that. Characters are not the most important here; it’s the facts. And they are presented meticulously and objectively, without unnecessary additions, fast editing, or mood-setting music. In this regard, even Howard Shore steps into the background, composing only a delicate, instrumental background to the events, without commenting on them with more or less solemn chords.

It’s worth watching “Spotlight.” It is an incredibly valuable film because it does not impose interpretation, but presents the facts. It does not fall into sentimentality or pathos, nor does it operate with extremes. It is a reliable record of events, free from judgments and generalizations.


Jan Dąbrowski

Self-proclaimed Cronenbergologist, blogger, editor, connoisseur of good coffee, and lover of insects.

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