If “Spotlight” takes the greater share of the Oscars, it will not be because it is a better movie than the others, but because it promises a better party. I can already hear the speeches. Hollywood mushroom heads taking credit for the hard work of Boston Globe’s investigative journalists. “We just wanted to get this movie made. It has an important message and it had fallen to us to get it out.” Even though the Spotlight Team made their findings public four years ago ,and a similarly themed film, Amy Berg’s documentary “Deliver Us From Evil,” played theatres in 2006. So the team behind “Spotlight” is not gifting us with breaking news. They are exploiting a news story that reaches back to the mid-eighties, the story of how Cardinal law covered up the 1.000 or so acts of child rape committed by 250 Boston priests.
Where “Spotlight” is a fictional movie focused on Law’s complicity with the sex crimes of Boston’s elite priesthood, Amy Berg’s film was a documentary about one man, Father Oliver O’ Grady, who served seven years in a California State penitentiary after pleading guilty to fourteen counts of child molestation. Writer/ director Tom McCarthy and his co-writer Josh Singer have managed to fold in some of O’Grady’s statements into the confessions of a Boston priest, thus appropriating some of her material without giving her any credit.
Director McCarthy has learned all the tricks of the “investigative journalist” picture. He displays a particular deftness in speeding up the dialog and the body language whenever some new, relevant fact has been overturned. And we in the audience join in on the huffing, puffing and speed-dialing as we follow the urge to spread the news to all people everywhere. The acting throughout, with the exception of Len Cariou’s good old boy interpretation of the notoriously evil Cardinal Bernard Law, an entity with whom I have had two encounters and found to be one of the three most diabolical creatures I have ever met.
For those of you who grew up in the post-print newspaper age, let me tell you that newspaper men (and women) are the real heroes of America’s 20th Century. And if you see this movie, just remember that these actors are miming the thoughts, gestures, and conversations of real people. It is not this group of attention mongering celebrities that put their friendships, careers, and safety on the line to break this story. They were real people. People who, every week, become more and more marginalized as free speech and access to information becomes a thing of the past.