Thursday, November 26, 2015     Volume: 16, Issue: 38

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Santa Maria Sun / Film

This weeks review

'Spotlight' chronicles Boston Globe reporters’ long journey to reveal the Catholic Church’s pedophilic priest scandal




Where is it playing?: The Palm (in San Luis Obispo)

What's it rated?: R

What's it worth?: $9.50 (Anna)

What's it worth?: $10.00 (Glen)

User Rating: 0.00 (0 Votes)

Co-writer and director Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor, Win Win) tells the true-life story of how Boston Globe reporters uncovered the Catholic Church cover-up of its child molestation scandal. (128 min.)

Glen: The importance of the Fourth Estate is on full display here. Without tenacious investigative journalism from the Globe’s Spotlight team, who knows how long the Catholic Church’s systemic sexual abuse of its most vulnerable congregation members and its venal cover-up might have continued. Under the direction of a new Globe editor—Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber)—the paper finally did the impossible: took on the Catholic Church, which seemed to have infiltrated every aspect of Boston life, from high society, to the law enforcement and judicial system, right down to poor parishioners whose children were abused but who were convinced to protect the church even as it refused to protect its youngest members from predators. It’s gut wrenching and infuriating to think this was allowed to continue and that an official as high ranking as Cardinal Bernard Law (Len Cariou) was involved not only in protecting pedophilic priests but placing them in new parishes where they could abuse again. I think what the film does best is subtly demonstrate how the church inspired loyalty. Almost all the characters seem to struggle between doing what they know is right and reconciling what they see as their betrayal of an institution most of them grew up with, which makes the church’s actions doubly despicable.

Anna: If there is one thing you come away with after watching a film focusing on Boston, it’s how fiercely it’s loved and defended by those who call it home. It’s populated by working-class Irish Catholics who love God and family, and are devout and protective of their own. It’s tortuous to think of what these families went through—the decision, after much persuasion from their trusted church leaders, to keep quiet, to take a settlement, and trust the same officials that the guilty party will be rightly punished. Interestingly, the story was there all along, a carrot that had been dangled in the news staff’s nose many times before by those who saw the corruption in front of them. But it took a new editor, a Jew with no ties to Boston, to push them into looking deeper. The ties between the city and the church are evident from the beginning: 53 percent of the Globe’s readership identifies as Catholic. Yet the Spotlight team soon realizes the importance and impact of what they’re investigating: a worldwide scandal that indicated 6 percent of Catholic priests had been accused of sexual abuse. Every insight reveals more frustrating evidence of a cover-up that had gone on for far too long. Well-executed and well-cast, Spotlight gives the audience an excellent view into what it took to break the story big enough to scandalize the Catholic Church.

Glen: You really have to admire the acting, especially by Mark Ruffalo as Mike Rezendes, whose bulldoggish tenacity makes him an excellent reporter but a terrible husband. He thinks of himself as married, but he lives alone in a drab apartment, believing he’s working it out with his wife though he clearly makes time for nothing besides his job. Michael Keaton as Spotlight team leader Walter “Robby” Robinson is terrific, playing his character as a moral man with a mixed relationship with the church. As the extent of the scandal develops, it’s his character that has the most to atone for on the Globe staff. Had he been ignoring warning signs for years? Likewise, Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery) is also conflicted between his duty as a journalist and his loyalty to the church. These are people who recognize the sacred duty journalists have to their readers, but they’re also fallible human beings. Stanley Tucci as attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who’s representing a raft of victims, also deliversan intense performance as a man on a mission to hold the church accountable. All told, this riveting film will grip you from start to finish. You might not like the truth it uncovers, but you can’t look away.

Anna: The writers did an excellent job of letting us get to know these reporters without pulling us into the muck of the mundane details of their lives. We learn they are all of Catholic background, though none attend mass regularly. We’re allowed varied insights into each of their lives, but the focus of the movie remains almost solely on the emerging details of the story. One of the most frustrating elements of investigative journalism is that it can take a long time to follow every lead possible and get the full scope of a story, especially one as big and influential as the Catholic Church scandals. Ruffalo’s character seems to best represent that frustration, while Keaton’s Robby has a more pragmatic approach and insists on getting all of their ducks in a row before breaking the story. Marty (Schrieber) insists they follow the story to the top, to not let it get buried by the church. While the subject of the story is unsavory, the details are fascinating, and Spotlight is a fantastic representation of the time and heartbreak a big story like this truly takes. 

Sun Screen is written by New Times Staff Writer Glen Starkey and his wife, Anna. Comment at