By John Campbell
As memorable as any film’s content may be, the emotional toll it takes on its audience can be equally so. The session of this that I attended was composed entirely of mature-age punters – the sort of people who go to the cinema in the middle of the day. At the end, we left in a hush of bleak resignation, deeply angered by what we had seen and frustrated in thinking that the power and influence of the Catholic Church remains undiminished. The story deals with the Boston Globe’s exposé of the wicked maltreatment of children by the city’s Catholic clergy through the eighties and nineties. Sadly, we are all familiar with the scenario. In my case, as a non-believer, Tom McCarthy’s movie added another layer to my understanding of the priests’ sickening activities. That their sexual abuse of helpless young victims was unpardonable is a given, but what I’d not appreciated before is that it was also an abuse of faith, enough to shatter lifelong convictions. A straightforward narrative delivered with a subdued palette (costumes are almost entirely neutral) and free of clever time-jumps moves inexorably into realms of venal criminality as the newspaper’s reporters unearth repeated cover-ups. McCarthy does not shy away from the unpalatable truth that the dire state of affairs had been partly underpinned by the media’s apathy. Whistleblowers in the past had made submissions to the Globe that were not followed up on – ‘silence like a cancer grows’. It took an outsider, the new, Jewish editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiver) to encourage the Spotlight team to focus on the organisation rather than the individual. A revitalised Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams (‘my Nanna goes to mass every day’), John Slattery and the slow-boiling Mark Ruffalo are fantastic as the journos unearthing the shocking truth. When the dust had settled, Boston’s cardinal, for his sins, was transferred to a cushy gig in Rome. He’s probably chortling over a carafe of chianti with George Pell right now – if George can drag himself out of his sick bed, that is.