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Film review: Spotlight charts journalists’ expose of Catholic Church sex abuse scandal

Methodical and measured story of Boston newspaper’s investigation into paedophile priests and cover-ups that caused a global crisis for the church

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 February, 2016, 11:31am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 February, 2016, 11:31am

Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight is the true-life tale of how the Boston Globe newspaper broke the astonishing scandal of sexual abuse and cover-ups in the Catholic Church in 2002. Methodical and measured, it’s first and foremost an engrossing procedural, as reporters painstakingly sift through filing cabinets, teasing out evidence for a story that will ultimately lead to sickening global revelations.

The obvious forefather is Alan J. Pakula’s All The President’s Men, with its tale of Nixon-era wrongdoings in the White House. There’s even a direct link, via Ben Bradlee Jnr, the Globe’s deputy managing editor whose father was at the Washington Post when it broke the Watergate story. As played by Mad Men’s John Slattery, Bradlee Jnr is just one small piece in this remarkable jigsaw of an ensemble.

READ MORE: Oscar-nominated movie Spotlight looks at the Catholic Church’s shameful response to child sexual abuse in Boston

Leading the way is the quartet of crusading investigative reporters asked by the paper’s new editor (Liev Schreiber) to follow up on a story concerning allegations surrounding a local priest and his abuse of young boys. Led by Michael Keaton’s veteran reporter, the tenacious team (Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James) gradually realise this is just the surface of a very disturbing phenomenon.

Dealing with issues of complicity, blaming even the Globe itself for never following up earlier stories of abuse, McCarthy and his co-writer Josh Singer do an admirable job of showing how such horrific crimes can be allowed to carry on, as the Church wields huge influence over Boston society. Forensically written and directed with restraint, it’s a film of huge social importance – never sensationalistic, always spot on.

Spotlight opens on February 18