This is a terrific film. Period. And, for the record, everyone I know who’s seen it agrees. It is not a fluke that it has received a 93 score on Metacritic and 4.0/4.2 on Allociné. If one doesn’t know by now—if that’s possible—the pic tells the story of the Boston Globe’s 2001-02 investigation into reports of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in the Boston archdiocese, and which yielded the revelations that everyone knows. I remember the story from the time, of course, but didn’t pay undue attention to it, as I’m not a Catholic, was consumed by 9/11 and its aftermath, and it somehow didn’t surprise me that there would be a sex scandal on a mass scale in the only religion in the world that prohibits its official propagators of the faith from marrying and having normal sex lives. Objectively, scientifically speaking, the Roman Catholic Church’s prohibition of sexual relations for members of its ecclesiastical hierarchy is totally abnormal.
The film, in addition to being riveting, well-acted, top-notch entertainment, has a couple of important messages. One, obviously, is the centrality of a free press. A free press, however, does not only signify the absence of formal censorship or assurance that reporters and/or their bosses won’t be prosecuted for merely doing their job. It also means financial independence—of not being dependent money-wise on public or private power—i.e. being truly independent. Moreover, a free press also necessitates professional journalists who are operating in a polity with a certain degree of transparency, know how to do investigative reporting (Spotlight being the Boston Globe’s investigative unit), and do not fear taking on powerful, respected institutions.
A second message, or takeaway, is precisely the courage it takes to investigate these powerful institutions. One learns in the film that the behavior of the abusing priests had been well-known for a long time, and even reported in passing in the Globe several years earlier. But the Globe came up against the omertà of the Boston ruling elite, of men who all knew one another (and that included the Globe itself)—and often since childhood—and the acquiescence of ordinary people who uncritically accepted the moral authority of the church. And when a newspaper report is buried in the inside pages and not picked up by other news outlets, it dies. A big story has to be on page one to have legs. And having outsiders making editorial and reporting decisions in the newspapers—persons who are not from the city and therefore don’t have longstanding personal relationships with those they’re investigating—is of central importance.
The film has been nominated for several Oscars, including best picture. It deserves to win this.