Film Review: Spotlight

by Samantha Ho

Rated M. Starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, and Stanley Tucci. Directed by Tom McCarthy.

Already getting a lot of Oscar nods, Spotlight is based on a true story.

After The Boston Globe’s chief editor resigns and leaves the position open for new blood. Marty Baron (Schreiber) takes the post and plans to shake up the newspaper’s operations, including the four-person investigative group, Spotlight. He immediately assigns them to a story of huge implications – the decades-long cover-up of child abuse allegations by priests in the city’s Catholic Church diocese. With 53 percent of the readership identifying as Catholic, and other personal relationships affected, the piece is not an easy one for Spotlight to write. But with the team’s thoroughness and whole-hearted dedication to setting the story straight, it looks like a rather optimistic feat.

The media is considered the “fourth estate”, one of the subdivisions of modern society alongside governments (first estate), businesses (second estate) and consumers (third estate). They are considered as guardians of the public interest, and therefore will inevitably clash with the other estates when they don’t fulfill their duties. Interestingly, the first estate idea in its original conception included religious leaders and clergy. Spotlight gives us insight into the power struggle and the media’s quest for justice when the media, the law courts and Catholic Church are at loggerheads with one another.

For an uncomfortable movie plot, the presentation and editing in Spotlight made it comfortable for me to think through my response to each of the characters and scenarios. The pacing of the movie was fast enough to keep me on edge, waiting for the next breakthrough to come to the team. A lot of name-dropping (of priests, lawyers, victims), however, made it hard to keep up with the plot whilst remembering who was who.

I also enjoyed watching the team’s dynamic. No one character seemed to take centre stage, and I liked Baron’s introverted and thoughtful persona contrasted against the active, ‘go-getter’ Spotlight team.

Despite the great efforts of Team Spotlight, they can never bring injustice to its total and perfect end. The scandal is too big to deal with, because sin itself is a scandal too big to deal with. We can take comfort that “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14). He sent Jesus not only to offer forgiveness to the world for their evil deeds, but also to put an end to the power of sin, death and of Satan (Colossians 2:13-15).

Another note which Spotlight brings up is that many people have an unbiblical view of Catholic priests as divine, almost equal with God. Therefore the Church considers anything they say or do permissible, as if their good outweighs their bad. We see this clearly in Spotlight. As one victim in the movie said regarding his abuse by a Boston-based priest, “How do you say no to God?” Here, the priests are predators on the vulnerable, in a wicked system that tries to bury the issue and let perpetrators escape punishment.

In the New Testament, the global church is given a big identity and responsibility: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10; see also Exodus 19:6). The resulting command is to “abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Therefore, God’s people are to live a life imitating the holiness of God. But they are not free from sinful desires. They’re still humans who desperately need God’s forgiveness and new life.

The Verdict: Overall, Spotlight is compelling to watch. It wasn’t overly sanitised for a movie based on a true story. It made me think about the real stories of people suffering as a result of spiritual, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of those in the church. However, it made me long for God’s perfect justice to be had on evildoers, but also for his mercy to those who turn away from their evil deeds. 3.5/5

Spotlight is released in Australian cinemas on Thursday, 28th January. It is already screening in the US and UK.

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