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Review: Spotlight – “Powerful, gripping and well-executed”

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More often than not, we watch films to laugh, or to scare ourselves, or to escape; basically we just watch them to be entertained, however we like them to do that. Every now and then though, we watch films that open our eyes to the world around us and shock us, in a good way. That’s just the kind of film Spotlight is.

The film tells the true story of the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer-winning investigative journalism team “Spotlight” who, in early 2002, published their findings on one of history’s biggest cover-ups, exposing widespread child abuse in the Catholic Church by over 70 local priests. The team worked tirelessly against the powers that be – time, corrupt counterparts and threats – to bring the momentous story to light.

Spotlight is gripping filmmaking at its finest. Since widespread coverage ousted the church and exposed the atrocities taking place behind closed chapel doors, the notion of Catholic priests molesting young boys has seeped its way into our social conscience, becoming something not uncommonly alluded to and even joked about in popular culture. In this sense, this film is not telling us a story we don’t already know, so why watch it?

Film has a unique ability to spotlight (if you will excuse the pun) issues, and give us insight and understanding we couldn’t otherwise gain. We know the findings, but how about the work and journey of a small team of individuals which brought them to us? Only fourteen years after the events of the film, the worth of investigative journalism is on its way to extinction, and Spotlight shows us why this is not a good thing. So often we take information for granted. In a time when the majority of content we consume and information we seek out is entertainment as news rather produced by peers and non-experts, how could a story like this one be told?

A strong cast – in this case including Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci, and Liev Schreiber – almost always (read: not always… think Valentine’s Day) means a strong film, and that is certainly the case here. Ruffalo gives arguably his most compelling performance to date as journalist Mike Rezendes, providing both a sense of urgency to keep us on the edge of our seat, and emotional reaction to the story being uncovered, something other characters distance themselves from. While it is easy to get swept up in all the dialogue, Rezendes’ personal reaction triumphing over his professional one reminds us what was truly at stake in uncovering this story.

The film poses the question of how a story of this nature and magnitude can be possibly told. The answer is of course with facts. With names. With numbers. One of the film’s most powerful moments for me came just before the credits rolled, where the locations of major parish abuses have come to light since 2002, and several familiar town names in my home country of New Zealand appeared. Spotlight is not just a film; it is a powerful, gripping and well-executed reminder of why it is so important to dig a little deeper, to educate ourselves and keep our eyes open to what is happening and the world around us.

4.5-out-of-5

Spotlight is in UK cinemas from 29th January 2016.

You can find me on Twitter and over on my own blog.

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