Spotlight is the film you don’t want to watch, but you know you need to. Much like our own home grown products like Song For A Raggy Boy and The Magdalene Laundries, this is a film that tackles a tough subject and tells a story that is difficult to hear. Personally, I was extremely keen to see the film and see how the issue is dealt with, whilst at the same time I was massively apprehensive about how I would feel come the closing credits. Suffice to say, I was right on the money and by the time the credits rolled I felt angry, betrayed, frightened and well and truly upset. This is exactly why you need to see this film.
Spotlight tells the tale of how The Boston Globe investigated and eventually broke the clerical abuse scandal that rocked the city, and further fed into the general outing of these monsters worldwide. The tale this film tells is not about the lives of the journalists behind the project, nor the lives of those who experienced this appalling level of manipulation and neglect. Sure, both of those parties feature prominently, but the story this film is telling is about what happened, how it happened and what was done about it. Everything that happens in the midst of that is simply because it was part of it. The reason I point this out is because very often that can leave very little room for style and technical skill when the story is one of such importance as it is here. It is true to say that Spotlight is not the showiest or flashiest film you will likely see in cinemas right now and certainly alongside its fellow Oscar nominees it sits a little subdued, but that is all secondary to its importance. What makes this film essential is that it is the largest platform upon which the world has ever been educated on this institutional failure to ensure the protection and wellbeing of children.
As you can imagine, the plot and themes within this film resonate quite strongly with an Irish viewer. It is not right to say if one location had it worse than another when it came to the clerical abuse scandals that finally broke into the public domain all too recently, but what is fascinating whilst watching this film is the sheer disbelief shared by all of the case of characters as it dawns on them exactly how big this situation is. As an Irish citizen in my 20s, I can remember very little of the period in my life where I would have identified as Catholic, and it is certainly very hard for me to remember a time when I wouldn’t have jumped to one single conclusion regarding Catholic priests, considering Brendan Smyth was first arrested when I was 3 years old. The handling of the scandal within this country was a unanimous cluster f**k as we well know, and to be fair it was handled correctly in very few territories around the world, but Spotlight doesn’t concern itself with that end of things aside from some facts thrown onscreen towards the end of the film. In that regard then, this film gets to focus far more strongly on the slow burn of how the information was unfurled in this case and how belief and rationalisation took its time to sink in with those who were investigating it. Arguably this was the part most interesting to me as it contextualised some of the missing pieces I would have had with regard to how events played out in Ireland. Quite simply, nobody could allow themselves to believe it was happening. In that vein there was no group of people better suited to investigate than the Spotlight team, given that their responsibility was to fact check to the nth degree and approach stories in the most objective way possible.
What this group of journalists achieved was an extremely thorough and airtight investigation, better even than anything the authorities could do when it came down to it, and as a result of that and this film, the true horrifying nature of it all can be learned by audiences everywhere. By comparison to the two films listed at the start of this review, or indeed most other films on this subject, Spotlight doesn’t go anywhere near as harrowing as it could have done when it comes to the details and the portrayal of survivors and victims of this deplorable event, but it is a wise decision. What is told to us through the brief interactions we see with survivors and through the absolute horror and disbelief our leads convey to us is just as impactful if not more so and ultimately, it is all we need.
Spotlight will not leave you feeling good by the end; I’d be surprised to hear of anyone feeling anything but anger. Thing is, there’s not really a limit to how much we can allow this story and the countless others like it to cause this emotion within us. It may not be the most technically impressive film you will see this year, but it is unquestionably one of the most important.