Eric Renderking Fisk | March 2016
One of the things I’ve noticed about myself is that I tend to like movies that are about disturbing subject matters that are great only because the plot revolves around people trying to do something to stop an incredible injustice. Each of my favorite movies – with a few exceptions – has everyday men as heroes doing some investigative work to uncover a conspiracy or a crime. Most of my heroes are men and women who are willing to look in places where others won’t confront facts most of us want to hide, and admit that some things real when common people would rather believe what they see and hear is a mere urban legend or conspiracy theory.
Spotlight is one of those movies
From The Film's Production Company - Open Road.
When the Boston Globe's tenacious "Spotlight" team of reporters delves into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church, their year-long investigation uncovers a decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston's religious, legal, and government establishment, touching off a wave of revelations around the world.
Spotlight reminds me of that moment after watching “All The President’s Men” and then went looking for more just like it. It reminds me of when I had that epiphany (followed by euphoria) that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to write about things that people who want to talk abou t but can’t since they’re too afraid.
Spotlight is beyond a mere newspaper movie; it’s about how a couple of news paper reporters on the special investigative team (The team’s is the ‘title character’ of this film) played by incredible actors from various other giant cinematic productions (Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci…) actually stumble upon this after the new paper editor Marty Baron (Schreiber) asks the spotlight team to do a more in-depth story after one that had just been published about one priest getting caught in a pedophile accusation.
From here, the movie continues on the course of the characters of the Spotlight Team doing true investigative work, following leads that were sent to them earlier but they ignored (which leads to the film's dramatic ending and ‘coda’ in the finale) and talking to other citizens around the city of Boston who have been championing this cause much for longer.
There are many times while watching this movie I remember instances in my own life when I went to some library or town clerk’s office and denied access to specific papers. Spotlight – especially Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal of Globe Investigative reporter Mike Rezendes - reminds me of myself and my own reactions when I discovered some key information that led me to believe that there was more going on behind the scenes in business or local government than we’re being told.
The truth of what happens behind closed doors in too many government agencies or religious institutions is far stranger than fiction and conspiracy theories have more to do with facts than they do with fiction despite what conventional wisdom would have you believe.
This is also a film about how criminal or evil acts can perpetuate over generations. It’s not the whole institutions fault that there’s corruption within their organization, it’s the leadership who believes that it’s “better for all involved” that these problems go away quietly. There are a couple of disturbing scenes with Paul Guilfoyle as the composite character “Pete Conley” who shows up as a ‘handler’ for the Catholic Church. There are times when “Conley” shows up to make sure that the Globe’s story gets buried, and tries to accomplish this with platitudes, cliché comments like ‘let’s makes sure we’re all on the same page…’ and a heavy hand on the shoulder and a ‘we’ll talk about this later’ kiss-off at the end of a conversation about how such a story could hurt an institution that does less harm than good.
It’s easy to understand that after a visit from such handlers weak willed people would simply fold under such manipulation. Thankfully, Michael Keaton’s Walter 'Robby' Robinson isn’t so soft and folds easily…
Walter 'Robby' Robinson: We got two stories here: a story about degenerate clergy, and a story about a bunch of lawyers turning child abuse into a cottage industry. Which story do you want us to write? Because we're writing one of them.
Somewhere, there’s a point when this movie stops being about newspaper reporters who are just trying to do a good story about a controversial issue and becomes a crusade to stop a genuine evil that was perpetrated over generations – if not centuries. “Spotlight” becomes something more than just a series of stories that this team did that earned them a Pulitzer Prize, but doing the work that should have been done by the police or law enforcement officials.
What started as just “Did everyone read Eileen McNamara's column this weekend? What's the follow on that?” turned into several arrests, criminal investigations…
One of the most important aspects that this motion pictured covered brilliantly was the question repeated many times throughout; “What took you so long?” and “Why didn’t you do anything to stop this sooner?”
Marty Baron: Sometimes it's easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around the dark. Suddenly, a light gets turned on and there's a fair share of blame to go around. I can't speak to what happened before I arrived, but all of you have done some very good reporting here. Reporting that I believe is going to have an immediate and considerable impact on our readers. For me, this kind of story is why we do this.
It’s no secret that there were priests within the church abusing children, it was the worst kept secret of our era. We all read reports of individual priests being accused of such wrong-doing, and this type of evil wasn’t just restricted to that institution. There have been plenty of accusations and eventually prosecutions of such predators but it’s only until recently that members of our society have gone after the actual leadership that hid the true depth of the depravity from us for too long.
There are no easy answers to the question; "Why did we take so long..." other than to admit that it took society finally having the collected will to tackle taboo topics after it took courageous people to bring such a 'forbidden' topic from out of the darkness.
“Spotlight” just may be one of those movies that won “Best Picture” at the Oscars that will endure for years to come, it’ll be that one movie that most of us will believe ‘The Academy” actually got right. But one of the reasons why it’s a “Flick To Hold You Over” is that it’s an eternal spring of inspiration for those of us truth-seekers. It’s one of those motion pictures we could go back to when we’re feeling defeated or discouraged and re-energize.
If they can do with, with all that was at stake… then so can I.