This Friday evening I chose to attend a free screening of the movie Spotlight. It was an event organized by the Department of Religion at Memorial University. I went to see the film because the story it tells, of the Boston Globe's uncovering of the systemic abuse of children by pedophile Roman Catholic priests, interested me both as a journalist and as someone who grew up in an Irish Catholic environment. The city I have called home since 1994 St. John's, NL, is still in 2016 struggling in the courts with the same issues of abuse and its often tragic outcomes of denial, addiction and lives destroyed. One of the film's most moving moments is in the credits when all the other cities where there have been similar investigations are listed. It is a very long list; so long in fact that I could not bear to stay for the discussion period after the film.
The story the film tells is well known now. What most impressed me about the film was the restraint with which it unfolds. This could have easily been filled with outrage and melodrama. Spotlight is surprisingly understated and the performances of its stellar cast are reigned in. It is very hard at times to tell the good guys from the bad guys–hard to distinguish between somebody "doing their job" and being either a villain or a hero. Nobody is painted with a broad brush. This is the world we live in filled with status quo, tension and consequences.
Another satisfying twist in the film was that the tragedy of 9/11 nearly derails the team of journalists' investigative efforts to tell the story they had been working on for so many months. Fortunately, it is an eclipse of events the project recovers from. When I looked into the background of the film I found an interesting comment about the director Tom McCarthy's intentions. Writer Josh Singer told Creative Screenwriting that one of his goals for the film was to highlight the power of journalism, which he feels has been waning. He explained, "This story isn’t about exposing the Catholic Church. We were not on some mission to rattle people’s faith. In fact, Tom came from a Catholic family. The motive was to tell the story accurately while showing the power of the newsroom – something that’s largely disappeared today. This story is important. Journalism is important, and there is a deeper message in the story."
Amen to that.