An unflinchingly hard look at the dark corners of religion

An unflinchingly hard look at the dark corners of religion

By ANUBHAV PARSHEERA | | 20 February, 2016
Poster of Spotlight

Director: Tom McCarthy
Starring:  Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams

Back in the 1990s, while the world was undergoing seismic changes, a predatory priest in Boston, John Geoghan was busy molesting children, and more importantly, getting away with it. As the news came to light, the number of victims snowballed into an avalanche as more than 300 people came forward with similar accusations against him along with other priests all over the world. What was initially termed as a case of ‘a few bad apples’, was found to be a systemic exploitation of minors and a cover up of epic proportions. Governments, lawyers and the Church were found to be complicit in sweeping aside allegations of child abuse, despite having known for decades. The aftermath was a generation of drug addicts and alcoholics battling depression.

The setting is the early 2000s, back when flip phones, and cordless phones were everywhere, and a priest and a pedophile were considered to be mutually exclusive. Although both phones went out of fashion soon after, the pedophile priest became a much too common occurrence.

Spotlight is an understated but hard-hitting look at the dark and dusty corners of religion, which are often ignored in the interest of faith, and belief and other such nice-sounding words. The power that we entrust upon it can also very easily be used against the very people it exists for. The film comes at an eerily apt time when we see society still reeling due to holy institutions that are simultaneously capable of begetting evil.

At other times, there is also an unwitting critique of the business of news, where serious issues are often tackled minus a human touch. It is an accurate look at the numbness of a newsroom that at times, seems to border on a complete lack of empathy. Human suffering is reduced to a story, and people become nameless, faceless sources. The film also seems to softly criticise a profession that has intrusion built into it. As Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) asks a victim how he was molested, she keeps digging into the  specifics of the abuse, almost uninterested in the mental distress she might be causing. McAdams like the others delivers a performance that might not be her best, but will be remembered for the film. 

Spotlight is an understated but hard-hitting look at the dark and dusty corners of religion, which are often ignored in the interest of faith, and belief and other such nice-sounding words.

Based on the true story of the main team of journalists from the Boston Globe who probed into the molestation charges against Catholic priests in the Greater Boston area in the early 2000s, it is an authentic portrayal of events. Dramatic twists and turns are done away with, and we are left with the realisation that the truth can sometimes hit harder than fiction. 
 The understated acting by an ensemble cast, and a no-nonsense script elevate the proceedings. None of the actors overshadow the other and ably carry the film collectively forward. Mark Ruffalo, who is the poster boy of the earnest good man character, turns in another reliable performance as a good and earnest man. He nails the role of a journalist, right down to the shitty apartment and the absence of a social life.

Liev Schreiber as the soft-spoken but firm new boss, Marty Baron does well in the limited time he is on screen. In a stark turn from last year’s Birdman, Michael Keaton, who is at the prime of his career at 64, gives a subtle but believable performance in the role of Walter Robinson, the man who headed the Spotlight team.

As a battle of almost Biblical proportions ensues, the three men and a woman take down the Goliath-like giant that the Catholic Church is, using nothing but mere words and facts buried under years of indifference. Director and writer Tom McCarthy gently chips away at the roots of the fundamental idea of goodness that the Church is associated with. Spotlight makes for compelling viewing in its simplicity and sneaks up on us causing discomfort, as it forces us to reconsider the image of holiness associated with religion, while making us realise that it is mere humans who run the show. 

Nominated for six Oscars, including one for Best Picture, and Original Screenplay, it is likely to win the award for its tightly-paced and smooth screenplay. 


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