Spotlight

Like the majority of the human race, I don’t usually care a whole lot about the kinds of movies that win Oscars. But I had to make an exception for this one. After all, my day job is being a journalist, and I’m also a Christian (though not Catholic) which means I pay attention to church scandals the way a patient pays attention to a cancer diagnosis. So this movie’s plot struck a personal chord with me on two fronts.

It’s based on the real-life story of a team of investigative journalists working for the Boston Globe who uncovered the widespread cover-up of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in their city and around the world. The movie starts in 2001, when Martin Baron becomes the new editor at the Globe. He finds out the Spotlight team is between stories, so he gets together with their editor, Walter “Robby” Robinson, and asks them to look into a history of lawsuits against a local priest who went to trial for child abuse. As the four reporters dig deeper, interviewing victims, lawyers and clergy and searching through court documents and church directories, they begin to realise that particular case is just part of a much bigger problem that the church has been covering up for decades.

Ah, the glamorous life of a reporter.

Journalism is probably one of the most mis-represented professions in fiction. Reporters are usually portrayed as dishonest vultures who are more than willing to disregard ethics and laws for the sake of a good story–that is, when they’re not glamorous heroes who travel the world braving bullets and explosions in search of The Truth. Spotlight is the first movie I’ve seen in a long time that shows reporters just doing their jobs as they would in real life. Those jobs are not glamorous. For the Spotlight team, uncovering The Truth meant hours–days!–of poring over church directories and legal documents, showing up early to courthouses, talking to the same people over and over again, and asking very difficult questions. But they are absolutely portrayed as people who care about telling the truth, especially if it means ending a cycle of consequence-free crimes against children. Which, of course, they end up doing. And according to most of the real-life people shown in the movie, it sticks pretty close to what actually happened.

So, as a journalist, I found the film inspiring–not to mention educational. I’m fairly new to the business, so I found myself taking mental notes on the characters’ interview techniques. I also spent half the movie drooling over the Globe’s spacious headquarters, huge staff, and ability to let reporters spend a whole year on one story. Let’s just say my newspaper doesn’t have quite those resources. Someday… *sigh*

Tips I learned from this lady: show that you care, ask permission before recording, ask about the gory details.

Of course, there’s really no way to make a movie that deals with child abuse “fun.” Thankfully, none of the incidents the Spotlight team reported on are actually shown on-screen, but some victims do describe their experiences in detail, so–sensitive viewers, beware. (The movie is also rated R for containing the normal amount of swearing one hears in a newsroom.) Even now, years after the scandal came to light, it’s still shocking to see just how common and accepted pedophilic priests were in the church. There’s a particularly chilling moment when one priest casually talks about molesting young boys like he was recounting a trip to the baseball stadium, and then reveals that he himself was raped as a child, presumably by another priest.

All the reporters on the team are portrayed as lapsed Catholics, and the investigation clearly shakes their faith even more. Several victims talk about how their abusers’ position as clergy made it harder to resist them or to tell anyone else about the abuse. As one victim puts it, “How do you say no to God?” The script doesn’t get preachy against Christianity–it’s far too well-written for that–but it clearly shows how hard it can be for some people to believe in God when others do evil in His name. And, as much as I would have liked to see at least one example of a righteous priest or churchgoer in the movie, I can’t argue with that point. Neither would the apostle Paul, which is why we have Romans 2:23-24: “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

This movie shows why I believe it’s so important for church leaders to be held accountable to their congregations for all their actions. No man should ever be equated with God in the minds of his followers, and none of his sins should ever be covered up.

Spotlight is an excellently-acted, well-written film about real-life heroes taking down real villains. And while it’s not as fun as some of the other movies that have featured Mark Ruffalo as a hero, it is important, and I highly recommend it.

Grade: A

This is right before he Hulks out.

Captain America: Civil War

Once upon a time, I was worried that the first Avengers movie would be a complete flop. It was bringing together too many superheroes who were too different from each other, and there was no way they could all fit into one coherent plot without turning it into a traffic jam. Then Joss Whedon worked his magic and made all my fears look ridiculous. Now, four years later, consider the Russos’ task in directing Civil War. There are twelve heroes in this movie, two of whom are making their MCU debut, plus a couple new villains and side characters. Civil War has to set up the next four or five Marvel movies, wrap up loose ends from Age of Ultron and The Winter Soldier, and somehow still be focused on Captain America enough to justify marketing itself as a solo outing for him. And it manages to do all that, and still be the most entertaining movie of the year so far. I think I love the Russo brothers.

As has become the norm with Avengers movies, this one starts with a big action scene. An Avengers team led by Captain America is in Lagos, trying to stop a very angry former HYDRA agent from releasing a biological weapon. They succeed, but newcomer Scarlet Witch makes a mistake that results in lots of civilian casualties. The world’s governments have noticed that this sort of thing happens rather often, and next thing you know, the US Secretary of State is showing up at the Avengers compound, asking the heroes to sign an agreement that would put all their operations under the supervision of the UN. Tony Stark, wracked with guilt over the mayhem his mistakes caused in Age of Ultron, is all for the new rules; Cap, still fresh from dealing with a corrupt government institution in Winter Soldier, is against them. The rest of the Avengers start to take sides, but things really get personal when Bucky Barnes is blamed for a bombing at the UN headquarters. Cap is sure he’s innocent and wants to protect his friend, but the Avengers who signed the agreement are obliged to hunt Bucky down. Also on the former assassin’s trail is the king of Wakanda, who is out for revenge after losing someone in the bombing and has many more skills than his title would imply.

Witness the living embodiment of “cool.”

As superhero movies go, this one is pretty much a masterpiece. Then again, so was the also-Russo-directed Winter Soldier, so what did you expect? The action scenes are beautiful. Captain America pulls a helicopter out of the sky with his HANDS. Bucky’s method of stealing a motorcycle must be seen to be believed. And of course there’s the epic six-on-six fight between both halves of the Avengers at an empty airport. Everybody gets to show off their skills, and it’s fun to watch because none of them are actually trying to kill each other (not at that point in the movie, anyway).

The good thing about the huge, sprawling nature of the MCU is that it gives filmmakers time to develop their characters and give them believable motives and relationships. What makes this movie work is the fact that we’ve spent several years getting to know the main characters, so none of their actions seem forced or unbelievable. The central conflict is basically the culmination of years of tension between Steve and Tony, starting when they first met each other in The Avengers. And I appreciate that the movie doesn’t really take sides. Both leaders are presented as flawed men just trying to do what they believe is right. Which makes the ever-escalating conflict between them all the more tragic.

As awesome as this scene is in the movie, I can’t get over how hilarious everyone’s expression is in this picture.

Of course, if I were to take a side, I’d be Team Cap all the way. For one thing, he’s just generally a nicer person than Iron Man, and for another, I always tend to sympathise with people who don’t trust the government. Like Steve says at one point, “My faith’s in people, I guess. Individuals.” The importance of individual choices is highlighted throughout the film; each member of the Avengers has to choose a side, after all, and each of their decisions has major consequences. This movie shows the damage that can be done by an individual who makes a wrong or ill-informed choice; but, through Bucky’s backstory in particular, it also shows the consequences of taking away a person’s ability to make the right choice. And it ain’t pretty.

I think Civil War also does an excellent–and heartbreaking–job of portraying the way a strong relationship can crumble. The Power of Friendship has been a major theme in all the Avengers movies, but this one shows that power isn’t invincible. Steve’s teamwork and friendship with Tony and the other Avengers has been able to overcome their personality differences, age gaps, murky pasts, etc.–but there are some things that can’t be forgiven with a pat on the back and a friendly monster slaying. Whether it’s a difference in beliefs or a personal injury, some rifts between friends are too wide to mend, at least for a long time. It’s, sadly, the most realistic thing about this movie. Bring some tissues. I’m serious.

On a lighter note, the new Spider-Man is great. Funny, powerful, and surprisingly angst-free (we meet him after he’s had a while to get over Uncle Ben’s death, so that helps). And T’Challa, aka Black Panther, shows up all the other heroes with his sheer majesticness and, by the end, considerable moral high ground. I can’t wait to see these guys in their own movies.

“This thing doesn’t obey the laws of physics at all!”

I have a few minor quibbles: couldn’t help but find the idea of Steve hooking up with his old girlfriend’s niece a bit icky, especially since her parentage is practically the only thing we know about her; and there was really no need for the location titles to cover the entire screen whenever they showed up. But those minor details weren’t enough to keep me from grinning like an idiot through the whole thing. This is a lovely film.

Grade: A