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Arts & Life

The Drama Of 'Spotlight' Is That Everyone Has A Hand In The Conspiracy

Kerry Hayes
courtesy Open Road Films
From left to right: Michael Keaton as Walter 'Robby' Robinson, Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron, Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes, Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfieffer, John Slattery as Ben Bradlee Jr., and Brian d'Arcy James as Matt Carroll in 'Spotlight.'

The director of Spotlight, Tom McCarthy, has made just five films, but he’s already one of the fine directors in this country. He’s precise and deliberate in his moves; he finds the drama in even minor events and situations, and just as he does in The Station Agent and The Visitor, McCarthy goes for things that matter.

In Spotlight, a man says to a reporter that if it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to abuse a child – and that’s partly what the film is about.

Spotlight takes its title from the name of The Boston Globe’s investigative team – an editor and three reporters crammed into a tiny office in a windowless cinder block room in a deep basement.

A new editor comes to the Globe, which makes the staff uptight. Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) is an outsider; he’s moved up from Florida; he’s Jewish in a town dominated by the Catholic Church and a newspaper whose staff is heavily Boston-grown and Catholic. Baron senses that something is fishy in the church hierarchy on the subject of priestly abuse of children, and he wants Spotlight editor Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton) to dig into the story.

Spotlight makes the city itself crucial. There’s the Globe office downtown. From there, the three reporters fan out to South Boston, Beacon Hill and other neighborhoods. Most of the abused children came from struggling families and broken homes – the rogue priests were good at insinuating themselves as rays of hope and care into distressed lives. Spotlight shows the homes of working class Boston, where those abused, now grown up, live with the damage that was done to them. The film visits the plush offices of the cardinal who protected the abusers, the lawyers who engineered the cover-up settlements, and the wealthy charities that make the whole enterprise look benevolent.

As Spotlight shows things, the Catholic Church reaches deep into the life of the city. An assistant district attorney says “Of course, Father,” as if he were at mass. The new editor pays the expected courtesy call on the cardinal – and the cardinal gives him a gift, which he calls a guide to the city. It’s a Catechism. Even the tough reporters hesitate at the thought of investigating the church that raised them, and avoid telling their grandmothers, fathers and aunts what they’re doing. The presence of the church flows into conversation at Red Sox games. When the reporters talk to the victims in their neighborhoods, there’s usually a church somewhere in the image. It’s inescapable, and it grows clear that just about everyone is in some way complicit.

Years earlier, The Boston Globe itself buried the story – good newspaper people couldn’t see its importance through their own indoctrination. So, among other things, Spotlight is about the power of group-think; Boston is a city in the grip of a terrible acquiescence.

One lawyer working alone is taking abuse cases. Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), an Armenian, tells the lead reporter Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), who’s Portuguese, only outsiders like them can do this investigation. They don’t look like anyone else in the movie; they’re dark and abrupt, twitchy and excitable.

The investigation moves deliberately, so you feel the weight of every page of the story as it’s turned over. It’s not just a question of amassing the evidence; it’s also a matter of overcoming resistance to turning those pages, sometimes literally – legal files, public records turn up missing. It seems that nearly everyone knows what is happening, hates what’s happening, but can’t bring themselves to speak out loud.

Director Tom McCarthy and Japanese cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi make remarkable close-ups of faces of people fighting inwardly with themselves, wanting to talk but unable to do it, and sometimes not yet conscious of the turmoil inside them. The faces give the lie to the false brightness of the city outside.

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