7 spotlight

The comparison to All the President’s Men is irresistible, only because it is so apt. With Spotlight, named after the investigative journalism unit at The Boston Globe, director Tom McCarthy traces the efforts of a team of dedicated reporters examining the pervasive sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by members of the Catholic clergy and the reprehensible cover-up of those crimes by the institutional powers within the Church. Like Alan J. Pakula’s sterling 1976 drama, Spotlight approaches its subject with a commitment to depicting the meticulous toil that goes into building a devastating, revelatory newspaper article of undeniable fact, essentially celebrating the heroism of ink-stained perseverance. Crucially, where the focus and methodology of the earlier film was driven by convenience as much as anything else (a mere two years after Richard Nixon’s resignation, a clean adaptation of the Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward nonfiction tome tracing their reporting was the quickest route to telling the bombshell story cinematically), the shift to the newsroom provides an added buffer of safety in Spotlight, a tacit acknowledgment that the villainy is so substantial it requires no lurid dramatization. The pained testimony of victims and the reporters’ shock as the scale of the abuse becomes clear make the dreadful points well enough. As it champions the noble push toward truth, the film ruefully concedes that such painstaking reportage is becoming increasingly difficult to produce as newspapers reel from a changing media landscape. Producer and star Robert Redford openly hoped that All the President’s Men would inspire a whole new generation of crusading journalists. If that film was meant to be a new dawn for the profession, Spotlight catches it at the swiftly fading twilight. And, in perhaps the most devastating revelation in a film awash in them, it demonstrates precisely what will be lost if the craft is allowed to fall away altogether.

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