SPOT­LIGHT, drama, rated R, Re­gal DeVar­gas, 4 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - — Jonathan Richards

It’s not a re­li­gion that comes un­der the glare of

Spot­light, but an institution. Over the cen­turies, the Catholic Church has seen its share of cor­rup­tion, de­bauch­ery, and hor­ror, from the Cru­sades to the Bor­gias to the In­qui­si­tion and be­yond. Like many an­other worldly power, it has been a force some­times for good and some­times for its op­po­site.

In Tom McCarthy’s (The Sta­tion Agent) splen­did, crack­ling ode to jour­nal­ism, the “Spot­light” in­ves­tiga­tive team at The Bos­ton Globe tack­les pe­dophilia and its cover-up within the Church. The se­ries, which won the team and the pa­per a Pulitzer Prize in 2003, be­gins on a cau­tious note. A new ed­i­tor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) has ar­rived from The Miami Her­ald to take the reins of the Globe, and one of his early or­ders of busi­ness is to take note of a small item in the files about a pe­dophile priest, an ar­ti­cle that had been buried on an in­side page. He sug­gests this might bear fur­ther at­ten­tion.

The team, headed by ed­i­tor Wal­ter “Robby” Robin­son (Michael Keaton) and foot-sol­diered by re­porters Sacha Pfeif­fer (Rachel McA­dams), Mike Rezen­des (Mark Ruf­falo), and Matt Car­roll (Brian d’Arcy James), is ini­tially du­bi­ous. They’re all lapsed Catholics, but no­body wants to take on the church. “Fifty-three per­cent of our sub­scriber base is Catholic,” one points out. This sort of thing has been around, ev­ery­body knows about it, a few bad ap­ples — what are you gonna do? Baron (in an exquisitely low-key per­for­mance by Schreiber) raises an ex­pres­sive eye­brow. And the chase is on.

The cul­ture of the city plays a ma­jor role in this un­fold­ing drama; Bos­ton is seen here as a com­pany town. The com­pany is the Catholic Church, and its res­i­dent CEO, Car­di­nal Law (played with unc­tu­ously friendly author­ity by Len Car­iou), is its well-con­nected, un­chal­lenged head of state. “The city flour­ishes when its great in­sti­tu­tions work to­gether,” he sug­gests to Baron with a smile. Baron raises an ex­pres­sive eye­brow.

Not too much is made of the fact that Baron is an out­sider, and a Jew, and un­mar­ried, and not even a base­ball fan in a town where the Red Sox rank a close sec­ond to the church as a re­li­gion. But it’s point­edly there. It takes an out­sider to shift the per­spec­tive. He ini­ti­ates a law­suit to open sealed court doc­u­ments, many of which turn out to have mys­te­ri­ously dis­ap­peared. The team gets to work. What the re­porters un­cover stuns them.

The story metas­ta­sizes. One pe­dophile priest turns into 13 with a lit­tle dig­ging. Prob­ing fur­ther, the num­ber mounts into the triple fig­ures for the per­pe­tra­tors, and into the thou­sands of vic­tims, with in­di­vid­ual mo­lesta­tions too nu­mer­ous to cal­cu­late. And the coverup is the work of a smooth, well-dis­ci­plined ma­chine, rem­i­nis­cent of the now-fa­mil­iar prac­tices of Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, Big Oil, and Big Pol­i­tics. New Mex­ico is fa­mil­iar with the church’s strat­egy of re­lo­cat­ing pe­dophile priests to per­ceived back­wa­ters, where the abuse con­tin­ued. The re­spon­si­bil­ity goes right to the top of the institution (the dis­graced Car­di­nal Law fled to a post at the Vat­i­can).

McCarthy, who co-wrote the ex­cel­lent script with for­mer The West Wing writer Josh Singer, is care­ful not to glam­or­ize his re­porters. They’re played as hard­work­ing stiffs by a su­perb cast. Ruf­falo in­cor­po­rates a side­ways, shuf­fling gait that can ex­plode into a pellmell gal­lop. James plays a sta­tis­tics man, who finds the story close to home when he dis­cov­ers that an ac­cused priest lives in his neigh­bor­hood. McA­dams blends em­pa­thy with de­ter­mi­na­tion, and some of the film’s most heart­break­ing mo­ments be­long to her, as she coaxes in­for­ma­tion from a sweet, dam­aged gay man (Michael Cyril Creighton), who de­scribes be­ing mo­lested as a child. “Did you talk to any­one?” she asks. “Who am I go­ing to talk to?” he an­swers sadly. “A priest?”

From top to bot­tom, and there’s really no bot­tom, the cast shines. Stan­ley Tucci plays a dry-as-dust lawyer who has been rep­re­sent­ing vic­tims and ham­mer­ing at the bar­ri­caded doors of this scan­dal for years. And Keaton man­ages to com­bine jour­nal­is­tic pro­fes­sion­al­ism, hon­esty, and equiv­o­cacy into the very hu­man pack­age of Robby, the ed­i­tor who hob­nobs with the city’s po­lit­i­cal and ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal es­tab­lish­ment.

McCarthy keeps nib­bling at the ques­tion of how this story could have re­mained buried for so long. Part of it has to do with the power of the church, and the shame of the vic­tims. And some of it has to do with the cozy re­la­tion­ships among the city’s power in­sti­tu­tions. At the end of the film — and you won’t be tempted to leave early — a crawl of names and places shows the truly stag­ger­ing ex­tent and reach of this scan­dal.

This movie will evoke a lot of com­par­i­son to the 1976 in­ves­tiga­tive clas­sic All the Pres­i­dent’s Men (there’s even a direct pedi­gree link, with Mad Men’s John Slat­tery por­tray­ing Ben Bradlee Jr., a su­per­vis­ing ed­i­tor on the team). There’s a lot of the same shoe-leather ap­proach, con­ducted here in an even lower key, which in a per­verse way gives it even more drama. The un­der­ly­ing drama is a mur­der tale, shin­ing a spot­light on the slow death of the Amer­i­can news­pa­per, whose tra­di­tions of in­de­pen­dence and dili­gence have made pos­si­ble the ex­po­sure of the kinds of hor­rors spot­lighted here.

Pa­per chasers: Rachel McA­dams, Mark Ruf­falo, Brian d’Arcy James, Michael Keaton, and John Slat­tery

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