Spotlight's old-fashioned storytelling targets Church cover-ups

January 29, 2016

Directed by Thomas McCarthy
Starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery & Stanley Tucci
In cinemas now

In 2002, the Boston Globe newspaper's Spotlight investigative journalism team dropped a bombshell when they reported that at least 87 paedophile Roman Catholic priests had been actively shielded for decades by the archdiocese.

As priests' sexual exploitation was detected, victims' families were paid off and perpetrators quietly moved to other areas — where they began their activities all over again.

The initial report sparked a flood of victims coming forward and a series of follow-up reports. Ultimately, 249 sexual abusers were exposed by the Spotlight team.

Spotlight, directed by Thomas McCarthy, is a very straightforward dramatisation of the lengthy investigation leading up to that explosive report.

Boston is a very Catholic town and its ruling elite had participated in the cover-ups. Cops, lawyers and all sorts of petty officials had been involved. The Spotlight team came under various pressures as they dug ever deeper.

As a film, Spotlight demonstrates just how satisfying good, old-fashioned storytelling can be. This film could have been made in the 1940s, all of the techniques are standard-issue Hollywood: a small team of dedicated sleuths slowly unearth the story that brings down the big bad guys.

Standard-issue as the techniques are, they are deployed very well with most of the action conveyed in subtle tones of voice. Truly extraordinary is the manner in which Michael Keaton communicates to the audience the inner workings of his character's mind through small facial tics and his penetrating eyes.

I attended the review showing the day that Cardinal George Pell told the child sex abuse royal commission he intended to give evidence via video link from Rome due to a heart condition. It was wonderful to know that this film has been made and heartening to view it.

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