Spotlight

Posted on November 12, 2015 at 5:30 pm

“Spotlight” is about the ultimate betrayal of trust from an institution that literally represented the Word of God to many people. And it is about whether we will continue to have institutions that serve the essential function of monitoring the gap between aspiration and actuality, between what people say they are and do and the reality.

Copyright Open Road Films 2015
Copyright Open Road Films 2015

Spotlight is the name for the investigative group of journalists working for the Boston Globe. While their colleagues reported on stories that could be reported and written in days, the Spotlight group had the luxury and the responsibility of taking as much as a year to do the kind of in-depth original research necessary for more complex and difficult subjects.

The staff at Spotlight was let by Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton) and included Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James).

Like most of the members of the Globe staff they were Boston born and bred, Red Sox fans to the end, and raised Catholic. They had just finished work on a long-term piece when their new editor arrived. He was not Boston born and bred, not a Sox fan, and not Catholic. And perhaps most important, he was not a Boston Globe lifer. He was Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), most recently from Miami. He was an outsider in every way and they correctly suspected that the Globe was just a stop on his career trajectory. (He is now at the Washington Post.) They were not inclined to follow his idea of what stories they should cover.

But when he asked them about following up on a story about a priest who abused young boys, they could not come up with a reason not to other than it was too awful to imagine that it might be true. They begin to investigate. It turns out it was not one priest. It is a city-wide problem. A priest abuses children, is put on “medical leave” and transferred. The families of the boys are paid off and silenced. Then it happens again.

Director Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent,” “Win Win”), writing with Josh Singer, really captures the culture of a newsroom, the stale coffee, the stale-er jokes, but the passionate curiosity that drives them all. This film will be compared to “All the President’s Men” because they are both true stories about young reporters getting huge stories everyone else missed. But the more important comparison is the way both movies capture the numbing work that goes into reporting. The doors knocked on. The doors slammed. And in this case, the nine years worth of diocese phone directories gone over, line by line (this was one of the last of the eras of off-line, analog document searches) to follow the “medical leave” priests took weeks of meticulous checking. It shows us reporting on the cusp of monumental technological change as well, when the paper makes the then-innovative decision to make the underlying documents available to readers online.

The reporters face enormous obstacles, starting with overcoming their own assumptions and then the powerful people who try to stop them. The church is an overwhelming force, politically and culturally. Do readers really want to know? Will the paper lose subscribers and advertisers?

There is no betrayal more devastating than to have the most trusted of institutions, the one most intimately involved in family joys and sorrows to be countenancing the abuse of those most deserving of its protection. But by the end of the film, that atrocity, already known to us, is not as troubling as the idea that news organizations may not be able to bring us the next one.

Parents should know that the theme of the movie is the investigation of widespread child sexual abuse and its cover-up, with sexual references, some graphic, and some strong language.

Family discussion: How did the arrival of an outsider affect the decision to do this story? Do today’s newspapers have the resources and support they need to do in-depth investigations like this one?

If you like this, try: “All the President’s Men” and “Truth” and the documentaries “Deliver Us from Evil” and “Twist of Faith”

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Based on a true story Drama Journalism

Salt

Posted on July 27, 2010 at 10:24 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Constant peril and violence, shooting, fighting, explosions, torture, some graphic images, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Very strong female character
Date Released to Theaters: July 23, 2010

“Salt” is the story of a CIA agent with an exemplary record who is accused by a mole of being a Russian spy, part of a cadre trained as children to infiltrate America by living normal lives until ordered into action. Angelina Jolie plays the title character, Evelyn Salt, bringing all of her Angelina Jolie-ness with her, for better and worse. She continues to explore the fearless action star stunt daredevil side she showed in the “Tomb Raider” movies and “Wanted” and the intensity of a wronged but fierce and fearless woman she showed in “The Changeling” and “A Mighty Heart.” And there’s the inevitability of her real tabloid-fodder life spilling over into the story as well, the wild child with her knives and épater le bourgeouis attitude evolving into the glowing madonna working tirelessly for the world’s children and happily devoted to her own highly photogenic six.

And so, when the movie opens, showing us Salt/Jolie being tortured by North Koreans, wearing nothing but her scanties, all of that comes along with whatever we are learning about her character. She is fierce and brave and will do anything it takes to protect her home. Once she is rescued, she holds it together until she sees who it was who insisted on getting her out, not the CIA, which has strict procedures for calculating the greater good, but her German boyfriend Mike (August Diehl), a scientist specializing in spiders.

Five years later, she has a desk job at a CIA cover organization and is getting ready to celebrate her wedding anniversary when a Russian guy shows up with an offer to provide information. He says that Salt is a Russian spy and is about to kill the Russian president (yes, I know that does not seem to make much sense). Her long-time colleague Ted (Liev Schreiber) believes she is telling the truth when she says she is loyal to America. But another official named Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor) wants her investigated. Salt runs. It could be because she thinks Mike is in danger or because she does not trust Peabody. Or it could be that the Russian was right.

The chase and fight scenes are well staged, especially when Salt leaps across the tops of trucks as they race along a highway. But the absurdity of the plot is made even harder to accept because Jolie’s dignified diligence seems so out of step with the film’s tone. The Jolie of “Tomb Raider” and even “Gone in 60 Seconds” knew how to have fun on screen. But the wild child era is over, and even in film these days, Jolie seems to want to go for the gravitas. If so, this is the wrong movie.

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Action/Adventure Movies -- format Spies Thriller
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