RogerBW's Blog

Spotlight 08 April 2023

2015 drama, dir. Tom McCarthy, Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo: IMDb / allmovie. The Boston Globe's investigative team is going to get to the bottom of this story no matter who tells them to lay off.

Well, obviously this is a journalistic fantasy. It's what people dream of when they go into the job, and what keeps them going as they copy out another corporate press release and wonder why nobody reads newspapers any more, must be these kids and their internets. And like 2012's Argo, which similarly felt like the story that a profession (in that case the CIA) would like to have told about itself, it's something of a hagiography.

But it works better. For one thing, it doesn't significantly distort the events it's recounting (as far as I can tell; at least, nobody involved has come forward to say "no, it wasn't like that"), even when that would make for a more dramatic story. (Young reporter is desperate to get hold of the court documents, but is just too late and they're closed for the day… but it turns out that a bunch of those documents were already available anyway, just being ignored.) For another thing, rather than the usual filmic process of making a hero of This One Guy, or even This One Team even as we follow them through the process, the praise is spread over the whole system of journalism and of having investigative reporters at all. (And some of the blame – the information had been laid on the team leader many years back, and he'd ignored it.)

And while a conventional feelgood film would say that this one corrupt guy was taken down and now the problem is over, it's made explicitly clear that sexual abuse of children by clergy is very much an ongoing problem. (I should declare an interest, I suppose: I was brought up Catholic, and never met anything that would indicate that this was happening, but most of the parish priests I encountered had "housekeepers" who were also their acknowledged mistresses, so I couldn't regard them as much of a moral authority.)

All of this does mean that the film doesn't quite hit the standard dramatic beats – but for me that's a good thing, because there are lots of films that do that (and don't pretend to be the truth). Visually it's not particularly stunning either, but in a preamble set in the 1970s it doesn't feel the need to spray Seventies Look sideburns and big glasses over everyone, so that's a good thing.

As far as the acting is concerned, these people are generally good; they inhabit the roles but they don't make them larger than life. Mark Ruffalo is very visibly doing the "you know me as a handsome slab of beef, but see, I can look like a normal person" thing, but he also has some lovely non-verbal bits.

If there's a flaw here for me, it's that the film is much more about the journalism than about the abuse. But it's a legitimate choice.

Once more if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

Tags: film reviews

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  1. Posted by John P at 09:21pm on 08 April 2023

    An Irish colleague once told me that when he was growing up PRIEST was an acronym for Pervert Resident In Every Small Town.

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