Film Reviews


By • Nov 4th, 2015 •

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A tedious bore. The cast chews up the scenery with twitchy acting trying to put energy into the plodding script.

In 2001 the New York Times bought the Boston Globe and hired a new editor-in-chief, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), instead of hiring from within. Baron, a sallow man without a personal life, knows nothing about the Boston way of life. Or, for that matter, the politics of being the Boston Globe’s powerful editor-in-chief.

Aren’t editor-in-chiefs of important newspapers supposed to be larger-than-life, colorful insiders?

In Baron’s first meeting with assistant managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery), he admits that part of his job is to streamline – if necessary – the newspaper’s large staff and get the paper back its retreating readership.

Baron’s first departmental review is the paper’s “Spotlight” investigative team led by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton). “Spotlight’s” reporters are Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Marty Campbell (Brian d’Arcy James). Baron is shocked to hear that a “Spotlight” story might take months, sometimes even a year, to prepare.

Baron, whose home appears to be his office, has done his homework. Questioning what the “Spotlight” team is working on, he suggests they take a look at Boston’s Roman Catholic Church and the way previous allegations of sexual abuse by priests was handled by the paper. With the Boston Globe’s readership 53% Catholic, Baron is asking the “Spotlight” team to not only investigate the Church, but its powerful supporters.

The Boston Globe did some past elementary investigating of priests’ abuse of children but claims were summarily dismissed or handled privately. They ran a few stories but ignored all the material sent in by a lone advocate.

At the center of the scandal is the fact that the Church – led by the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Law – knew all about the abuse and kept moving offending priests to different churches.

The Second Vatican Council completely changed the Roman Catholic Church for me stripping away all the fundamental doctrines. Mainly, and most shockingly, it distanced “itself appreciably from the event of Calvary.”

That was such a downer! Let’s dump the crucifixion and focus on the glorified, dressed Jesus.

The last time I was in Church, I was appalled. Thanks to the Second Vatican Council, the priest was a bystander. He stayed on one side and barely had a presence. The Church itself was bare. There was no altar, no altar rail, and no kneeling to receive Holy Communion. The sacrament was handed out by anyone who volunteered that morning!

And, it should be noted, I did not see one altar boy.

What’s next? Cleansing the origin story of Calvary is nearing completion and the movement to name the Blessed Virgin Mary as co-Redeemer is gaining adherents. Being the “Mother of God” is just not good enough.

The Catholic Church is in dire need of priests. Seminary education costs an average of $30,000 per year. This is why the laity is taking over many of the duties of parish priests. Would you make your Confession to your neighbor? It might just come to that or a group Confession, where you mumble your sins quietly.

The real story is not the Church’s 70 plus abusive priests or that the Boston Globe had the story all along and buried it, but how it became a cottage industry for lawyers handling the charges and just how many officials and private donors knew about it. With the subtle threat of losing their jobs, the team goes forward and interviews, harangues, and digs deep until they get to hidden agendas, sealed documents, and the true power of the Catholic Church in Boston.

Was the Penn State child sex abuse scandal a one-off? There were strong allegations that Penn State officials – even the hallowed deity of Penn State, Joe Paterno – knew all about Jerry Sandusky’s sex with children habits which began in the 1970s! Imagine what would have happened if Sandusky had named names.

What about sexual abuse in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities? How about a sex abuse expose of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA)? There were nearly 2,000 reported cases of abuse within the BSA prior to 1994. J.L. Tarr, a Chief Scout Executive in the 1980s, said regarding sexual assault cases against Scout leaders across all 50 states: “That’s been an issue since the Boy Scouts began.”

Since the Boy Scouts began? It was founded in 1910!

Western soldiers fighting in Afghanistan were told to look the other way as young boys are sodomized by Muslim soldiers, interpreters and war lords. This was passed off as a ‘cultural difference.’ This “cultural difference’ has been around for 1000 years. Throughout the Arab/Islamic world sex with boys has been common. It is an age-old practice of young boys being kept as sex slaves by wealthy and powerful patrons. The practice, called “bacha bazi” — literally “boy play” – is the secret everyone knows.

SPOTLIGHT pounds home the message that sexual abuse of children is a Catholic priest disease. Not damning enough, we are told that 50 percent of Catholic priests are not actually celibate.

Sexual abuse of children by figures of authority is the problem that should be exposed. What drives men to do this? What is it that this behavior satisfies in a man’s psyche?

The screenwriters, Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy (who also directed), give us all the running around, sleep-deprived reporters tenaciously interviewing the victims. All the victims cry recalling events that happened when they were children that destroyed their lives.

Ruffalo currently holds the title of “Worst Hairdo of 2015.” Here he sets himself apart by a circus of gestures, tics and strange voice patterns. Not to be out-done, Keaton has a career-load of facial expressions, puckered lips, and groans that upstage everyone else in a scene with him. Maybe that’s why Ruffalo went overboard.

Journalism sleuthing is not very exciting and there is no villainous priest to hate, so it is up to the actors to make their characters interesting. Unfortunately, McAdams cannot do much with her role. Sacha is the sympathetic listener and victim hugger. Schreiber’s Baron is a blank slate and he can do nothing to make the character interesting. Schreiber relies on his hairdo, semi-beard, death stare and bad posture to tell his character’s story. Baron doesn’t even enjoy the win.

SPOTLIGHT’S producers, Nicole Rocklin and Blye Faust, optioned the life rights of those involved in the story — specifically Spotlight reporters and editors.

And finally, the end note is completely unnecessary. Clearly, it was put in because the filmmakers did not trust that the audience would have enough hatred for the Church, they needed a sledge hammer denouement.

Member of Boadcast Film Critics Association:

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at

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