Spotlight

  
The inevitable has happened; we have a movie where the principle cast is almost entirely made up of actors from superhero films. There are so many comic book flicks these days that soon it will be impossible to make a motion picture without someone with superpowers is their past. 

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This serious true life drama about the journalists who exposed the history of hidden child abuse in the Catholic Church then features Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Liev Schrieber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup aka The Hulk, Batman, Wolverine’s brother Sabretooth, Iron Man’s dad, the guy who created Captain America and Watchman Dr Manhattan. 

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The cast also features Rachel McAdams who hasn’t been in a comic book film yet because she is a woman and you can count the women who have had significant roles in comic book films on one hand. Mind you, she will be in Marvel’s Doctor Strange movie so we’ll be able to tick her off too in a years time. Of course she was Irene Adler to Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes. Even Brian d’Arcy James, who isn’t famous enough to get his name on the poster, has flirted with populism by playing the lead in the original Broadway production of Shrek the Musical.

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Everyone of them has left mainstream entertainment behind here though. Spotlight does not seem to be courting popular appeal and it is all the better for it.

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That’s not to say that this isn’t an accessible film, it just doesn’t engineer moments of grandstanding or emotional manipulation in the way so many other films aim to do. Nor, despite the nominations it is getting, is it playing to the Academy Awards crowd. It is a proper ensemble piece and presumably the unimaginative Oscar voters, thinking they should recognise some of the performances, chose McAdams because she’s the girl and Ruffalo because he shouts a little bit. Everyone on screen actually deserves equal recognition as do director Tom McCarthy and writer Josh Singer for wisely letting the story speak for itself.

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According to this telling when the Spotlight investigative journalism team at the Boston Globe were handed the story of this hideous Catholic cover up there was no moment of shock, disbelief or righteous motivation. It was only as they looked in to it did they begin to realise quite how big the story was. Of course no one on screen is thrilled at getting this scoop because big means widespread and widespread means dozens and dozens (and dozens and dozens) of young victims. 

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The majority of the film shows people talking round desks buried in paper, walking down corridors, flicking through files and making phone calls. There are no angry confrontations with evil church officials, there are no shady priests intimidating people, there is no threat to the newspaper people and thankfully there are no scenes of paedophiles preying on children. Within this though they do show the devastating effect of what has happened and the way society has been complicit in it. There is also some suggestion of how the perpetrators justified their actions but this is not followed up, presumably because no justification is conceivable. 

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Somehow though, despite the dialling down of the sensationalism, the film remains totally compelling. The Catholic Church as an institution is demonised a little but the fact is that they were allowing priests to get away with raping children and there isn’t much that is further away from the doctrine they purported to uphold. In the end simply telling the story of the people who told the story feels like the right way to tell this story. 

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The Ripley Factor
Rachel McAdams’ character is really the only woman in the film, her and her Nan. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt though and accept that most of the key players in this particular slice of history were men. 

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Is this one for the kids?
There is some detailed discussion of what happened to the children but no more than is necessary. This is enough to get the film a 15 rating though. It is hideous when you consider that it is too much for under fifteens to even hear about what these men did to children as young as four.

 
 

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