Boston, June 2001 and the staff of the Boston Globe are bidding farewell to their much-appreciated boss, who is bowing out after many years of service. They give him a cake and a send-off, but life at the newspaper goes on, and they start to wonder what their new boss will be like, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), who has just moved from a Miami paper to take the reins on this one. Their proudest section is the four-person Spotlight team, the investigative reporters who are given room to chase down stories for months on end if necessary, but when he meets them, Baron is not convinced they are pulling their weight. Their chief, Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) protests, but the new head man has ideas about what they should be covering: a scandal of epic proportions nobody talks about.
The state of journalism was under much scrutiny around the time this Oscar-winning film was made, as public faith in the institutions was not at an all-time high given how many cases of the members of the press resorting to criminal activities to feed the never-ending appetite for news, in the process ruining lives and making ruined lives even worse. Therefore when Spotlight happened along, it could have been widely ignored or dismissed seeing as how journalists were being regarded as little better than the criminals they often reported on, but what this subject matter contained was a story so abominable that it placed all that spying, lying and victimisation into the shade: the systematic cover ups of child abuse in the Catholic Church.
According to this, it had been an open secret for decades that nobody had paid much attention to, allowing the Church to take care of the issue itself rather than hauling the guilty priests through the courts where the public would have in many cases been forced to face up to the extent of these rapes and molestations. The film starts quietly, as if reluctant to wade in straight away with fists flying, and for a while it appeared director and co-writer Tom McCarthy was being too subtle for his own good, basically making a modest drama out of the crisis because no television company would have been willing to fund it, so as a last resort it landed on the big screen where it would have been looking very out of place if it had not been for a clutch of big stars taking the roles of the crusading journalists.
But just as you are ready to dismiss it, a curious effect takes place, for the gradual accumulation of detail, of outrage, at what had happened makes it inexorably more riveting, and just as in All the President's Men, a film this owed a large debt to, you begin willing the reporters on to get justice for the victims and see those bastards responsible brought to court. It was a very emotive subject, as any cursory examination of any internet comments section on it will make clear, but McCarthy was not simply going to let his heart rule his head, as he took a very deliberate approach to delivering the facts, such awful information that six percent of Catholic priests were paedophiles and that was not only thousands of predatory holy men, it was even more thousands of victims, a state of affairs reaching back possibly centuries.
There was an undoubtedly fine ensemble cast which made you take a look at a set of circumstances and indeed crimes that hardly anyone would be in any way comfortable thinking about, and in a manner that selection of familiar faces informing us of the atrocities made it far easier to contemplate, if not easier to accept. We are made certain that the effects of child abuse in often disadvantaged homes by men who were not simply respected but held up as paragons of virtue in their communities did not end at childhood, they lasted into very broken adulthood, with alcoholism and drug abuse just two of the damaging aspects to living with these events. But by the end there was a sense that society had allowed it to happen, which was a little unfair in that nobody outside the Church would have wanted this situation to continue with the priests getting a slap on the wrist and moved about to more communities to begin their abuses afresh, which made the acknowledgement at the close of the film that finally someone was listening all the more moving. A humane, no-nonsense work that presented its case with clarity and compassion. Music by Howard Shore.