by Hope Madden
The Catholic Church sex abuse scandal – phenomenon, really – is a difficult cinematic subject to handle with integrity. It is so overwhelming in scope, in horror, in tragedy, in sociological impact and culpability that a clear eye and an even hand in storytelling can be almost impossible. Luckily, filmmaker Tom McCarthy chose to tackle the topic with his magnificent film Spotlight.
His inroad is the 2002 Boston Globe story that exposed systemic, generations-long abuses in Boston and the surrounding areas. With understated grace and attention to the minutia of journalism, Spotlight sidesteps melodrama at every turn, never glorifying its reporters or wallowing in the lurid.
A superb ensemble – Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schrieber, Brian d’Arcy James, John Slattery, Billy Crudup, and Stanley Tucci – draw you into a film with more insight than could reasonably be expected from its two hour running time.
An outsider (Schrieber) takes the helm of the Globe and wonders why the paper hasn’t spent more time on an allegation of priest pedophilia. As he learns how tough it can be to be an interloper in Boston, his native reporting team faces similar problems. But they take on the story, uncovering something so widespread and so high level it’s hard to fathom.
How did it happen? Why would these children allow it and why would they and their families keep quiet? How did the church keep it quiet? How widespread is it? Why are there so many predators in the priesthood? How exactly did such an epidemic go unreported and unaddressed for so very long?
McCarthy, writing with Josh Singer (The Fifth Estate), offers thoughtful consideration to the suffering, the cover-up, and the general societal culpability. “If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a village to abuse one.”
Spotlight also poignantly grieves the loss of faith – the inability to separate faith from institution – that haunts not only the victims, but those confronted with the systemic cover-up and enabling of the abuse.
After a couple of questionable turns (The Cobbler, for instance), it’s great to see this excellent filmmaker back at the top of his game. This is as observant a film as you will find, delicately crafted and brimming with sincere, multi-dimensional performances. It is required viewing.