Review of “Spotlight”

This Wednesday on the new episode of The Non-Prophets, Jeff and Denis reviewed the movie Spotlight while I had to leave the room to avoid spoilers. Lynnea and I finally had a chance to go see it last night. Jeff and Denis said it was great, and the reviews were all very positive, but we didn’t expect it to be as excellent a movie as it was. You should listen to their discussion of the movie on Wednesday’s episode, since their coverage is also excellent, beginning a little past the eight minute mark. But I didn’t get to put in my two cents, so here’s what I thought.

The subject of child abuse by priests isn’t easy or pleasant to confront, and it’s hard to predict that the movie could be as emotionally gripping and, in the end, satisfying as they actually made it. But the focus of the story is on struggling journalists who are investigating a mystery, and that topic has a special place in my heart.

(Review continues after the break)

The process by which we try to filter out objective information from the sea of opinions and special interests is a topic that never stops fascinating me, not only as a promoter of secular thinking, skepticism, and science, but also as a software engineer with a focus on internet technologies. The role of large media corporations has gotten more and more confusing in the last two decades, as we rely less and less on paid journalists, and more and more on unfiltered mass communication coming from friends and public figures.

“Spotlight” is very much a period piece, beginning in early 2001, when the journalists at The Boston Globe could clearly see the threat coming, and were struggling to reaffirm their relevance as resourceful and thorough investigative reporters. One of my favorite visual moments in the movie is when you hear the reporters discussing the case with each other, while the camera lingers on an external view of the building with an enormous “AMERICA ONLINE” billboard filling up a lot of the field of view. That moment perfectly encapsulates the moment in time when the movie takes place. Later on, the 9/11 attack becomes an important plot point, but only to the extent that it interrupts and railroads the story that everyone is trying to cover.

Most important about the movie is the emphasis on how much it is necessary to publicly expose unpleasant events in order to empower the victims of those events. Initially, nobody wants to talk about what they’ve experienced. The victims are too embarrassed to talk. The lawyers are afraid for their jobs. The other members of the church are sly and evasive. But the more visible the case becomes, the easier it is for those involved to find strength in numbers, and at they end they all want to take part and get the mutual support that they have been missing for all those years.

Great movie. Top notch acting almost across the board, and very moving treatment of its subject. Strong recommendation from me.


  1. says

    Thanks for the suggestion. The ex-Jehovah’s Witness community is particularly interested in this topic as there’s a lot going on with pedophiles among JWs right now. I had never heard of this movie but will spread the news around. 🙂

  2. Kevin Schelley says

    My uncle is one of the people portrayed in the movie. I wish I could say that he is a rational freethinker, but he’s pretty far from that.

  3. Kudlak says

    I grew up Catholic in Newfoundland and the Church there had a similar scandal in the 80s. I haven’t seen this movie yet, but the abuse and the conspiracy to cover it up did make the news all throughout the US. The folks in Boston then would have had precedent for exposing the Church in this way.

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