Movie Review: Spotlight

Oscar time is almost upon us, so it’s high time I finally caught up on last year’s winner, right? Spotlight is available right now on Netflix, and it’s a flat out incredible film.

I’d been avoiding it mainly because it seemed like it would be a downer of a movie. The investigation into the Catholic priest child abuse scandal in Boston? How in the world could that do anything but depress me? And when I’m busy, I don’t want to have my entertainment bring me down. But the time had finally come to check it out, and I’m very glad I did.

In a nutshell, this movie is the best depiction of the research process that I’ve ever seen. From the forming of the initial question (Is it true that Catholic priests were abusing children?) to the way it deepens as the research unfolds (how many? When? Where?), it’s all there in black and white. As a professional librarian, this is the sort of thing that really excites me. (Go figure.) Research can be incredibly difficult and complex, but at the same time, it can be very exciting to do, and this movie somehow captures all of that. (Probably because the stakes on the line are so much higher than with many other research projects.)

More than that, it’s got excellent acting and writing. There’s a reason it won the Oscar for best original screenplay. Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton both stand out in the cast (Keaton is so much better in this than in Birdman, which felt much more like a gimmick to me than anything else.) The  plot ratchets up the tension well, and by the end you just have to keep watching because you’re so intent on finding out what happens.

The movie is rated R for the subject matter and a few swear words (2 or 3 f bombs), but I really feel like this is one movie everyone should watch. Not just to find out how awesome research is, but to see what happens when people in power use that power to cover up evil. I could just as easily see this sort of thing play out in Salt Lake City as Boston. Churches do a lot of good, and so if all that good comes at the cost of a little bit of bad, what’s the harm? That sort of thinking can really fester and rot away the insides of a good organization, until good people are making very bad decisions. It sets up a false dichotomy, because it’s not an either/or situation. Good churches can both do good and not do bad. It’s not like the Catholic church could only do the good things it was accomplishing only on that condition that 6% of its priests were able to continue to molest children.

So if you typically avoid R-rated films, this is one I’d consider watching anyway.

I gave it 10/10.

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