In the Spotlight

Lance and Maggie are here to discuss Spotlight, a historic-thriller about investigative journalism and the evils of an institution. Named after a team of investigative reporters on The Boston Globe dedicated to the most intense and complex stories, Spotlight shares the riveting account of the team’s early 2000s investigation into Boston’s Roman Catholic Church. What starts as a piece on a single Catholic priest molesting children becomes a revelatory look into the repeated abuse of children by multiple priests in the Boston archdiocese, a tragedy made possible by the Church’s systemic cover-up.

Maggie: What do you think of Spotlight? A.O. Scott highly recommended the movie when he spoke with us a few weeks ago, not to mention the enormous Oscar buzz surrounding it—do you think it lives up to the hype?

Lance: I think it is a good movie, but I don’t know if it deserves all the hype. Hype is a really bad thing for a movie, as ironic as that may sound in a review. Hype made me expect perfection, which, of course, no movie can achieve. The story is chilling, but the movie doesn’t deserve that merit: it inherited the story from history. I keep thinking of what A.O. Scott said about movies like Suffragette, movies with real historical importance and stories that undoubtedly need to be told, and if these movies warrant all their praise. The problem with the historical drama is that we already know the ending, and the movie has to somehow get us past this fact and leave us in suspense. Sometimes Spotlight succeeds, sometimes it doesn’t.

Maggie: Although the movie sometimes felt too long, I think it accurately captures the complexities of investigative journalism and how it must feel to go against an institution as large and powerful as the Catholic Church. I attended a journalism panel on the film after the screening and the journalists there said that, aside from All the President’s Men, it was one of the most authentic journalism movies they’ve watched. They also know Marty Baron and Walter Robinson in real life, and believe the actors mastered their portrayals of them. I also really like that the film portrays both The Boston Globe and the Catholic Church as flawed, so that no one is idolized as the hero. Do you think they were successful in this?

Lance: I actually think the movie fails to show The Globe as flawed. It clearly tries to, which I think opens it up for the failure. The film resists idealizing the reporters, as you point out, but I’m not sure it needs to. We’ll never compare a journalistic failure, regardless of the ramifications, to priests molesting children. We’ll never look at those two institutions––the print media and the church––and think: ‘Oh, yes, they deserve the same amount of blame,’ nor should we. And as far as the film’s concerned, we’re much more interested in the investigation and the pieces that need to fall into place than The Globe’s failure to recognize the problem earlier. I think because it is The Globe versus the Church, and the Church’s transgression so dramatically out shadows the media’s, it is better that The Globe’s responsibility just be left out, or at least muted a bit.

Maggie: Interesting point. Another thing I appreciate is how the movie shows the personal reactions of the journalists to the story. For example, Sacha’s grandmother is deeply religious, so she worries about her grandmother’s reaction when the story gets published. There’s also a great scene where Michael emotionally confides that he has always wanted to return to the church, but now the sexual abuse scandal has ruined religion for him.

Lance: Yes, all around the acting is tremendous. Rachel McAdams’s performance is impressive, so energetic, almost neurotic. All three of the actors portraying Spotlight journalists—McAdams, Ruffalo, and d’Arcy James—have this focus where, on some personal level, the story became bigger than the people it was effecting. The three of them work phenomenally in harmony. I think Michael Keaton is fine, but not great. But Ruffalo, so mannered and so immersed in his character, really outshines Keaton. Maybe Ruffalo just had the advantage of playing a more outlandish guy than Keaton, but I think Keaton simply plays it too safe.

Some of the bit parts are also incredible: I’m thinking specifically of the man Rachel McAdams interviews, one of the victims, played by Michael Cyril Creighton. He immaculately captures the persona of vulnerability. Here’s this huge, sturdy man, and he’s playing a skittish child essentially.

Maggie: Agreed. Overall, the film is powerful—it really affected me. I think Spotlight can captivate any crowd, by providing an intelligent inside look into the ethics and process of investigative journalism.

Lance: The film’s acting buoys it, for me. I’ll watch it again just to see Ruffalo and his intensity. It was the best performance I’ve seen this fall. A-.