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I think my favorite moment in “Spotlight” comes at the end. This movie is about the Boston Globe reporters who filed several lengthy stories about sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and the ways the Catholic church covered up the abuse while allowing it to continue. In the final scenes of the film, the reporters have filed their story, and they’re expected a lot of angry phone calls to the Globe because of it. But they’ve also established a direct line to the Spotlight office, for people to tell their own stories of abuse.  As they walk into the empty office on a Saturday, the operators are bored.  No one is calling to complain.  But downstairs, in their office, the phones are ringing off the hook.  Story after story after story of abuse at the hands of these priests are pouring in.

“Spotlight” is a very buttoned down, no-nonsense telling of the scandal that rocked the Catholic church to its very foundations. Cinematically, it’s clearly patterned on “All the President’s Men,” the Redford/Hoffman film about the reporters who uncovered the Watergate scandal. Just like that film, this is about the process of journalism — about knocking on doors, spending hours poring over tedious files, following up leads and making connections.  There are very few displays of emotion, even as this team of reporters — Mark Ruffalo Rachel McAdams, and Brian D’Arcy James, led by Michael Keaton — discover that what they thought was a handful of priests turns out to be widespread and ongoing.  Actually, I think “Spotlight” is better than the film it’s patterned after, because it does a better job of making sure the viewer has the relevant info to follow the paper trail themselves.  I watched “All the Presidents Men” recently, and at times it devolves into a bunch of names, acronyms, and references to things like The Canuck Letter.  It’s hard to follow.  “Spotlight” avoids that mistake; I found it very easy to follow.

One of the things the reporters discover along the way is that pedophile priests are kind of an open secret around Boston. Lawyers are running their own racket, making money by quietly settling victims’ cases against the Church. Politicians and powerful businessmen know about it, but justify it by saying things like, “look at all the good the Church does.  Are you really going to ruin that because of a few bad priests?” Books have been published, support groups established, and one ex-priest psychologist has devoted his life to studying pedophile priests.  Even the Globe itself is implicated; both the lawyer and the psychologist have sent evidence to the paper, and were mostly ignored. Everyone knows, but nobody’s telling.

And that’s what I love about that final scene. It would be easy, and appropriate to ask of this fairly undramatic movie about a secret everyone knows, “what’s the point?  Why is this important?” And that scene provides the answer. A journalist’s job, you might even say his calling,  is to tell the story, and there is incredible power in storytelling. As long as the abuse stayed a secret – even an open one – the power was with the pedophiles, and the institution that protected them.  When the journalists brought it out into the open, they took that power away. All those phone calls were victims, finally empowered to tell their stories.  The process of healing can begin.  It cannot end, of course, until the abusive priests are no longer able to hurt anyone, and the institution that protects them is brought to justice.  But that process starts, not with a court case or a police investigation, but with a story told, and told well.

And so for me, “Spotlight,” as unglamorous as it is, is a powerful movie, because it recaptures the real power of journalism — not simply to report the facts, but to tell the stories that need to be told for a community to heal, to move forward, and to find justice.  Now, a lot of journalism does not live up to that calling.  It is sensationalistic, fear-based, and cravenly interested in nothing more but increased readership.  I’m thankful every time a movie like this comes along and reminds us that it can be — should be — something more.


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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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