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The ensemble cast of Spotlight are happy to take a back seat and let the true story of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of child abuse do the work

Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams in Spotlight

Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams in Spotlight

Halfway through Spotlight you notice other things. There are the ensemble performances. Michael Keaton confirming his post-Birdman redemption. Mark Ruffalo full of quivering fury as investigative reporter Mike Rezendes.

You notice the intelligence of the Oscar nominated script and the efficient direction by Tom McCarthy who keeps a tight rein on the sprawling tale; you notice how he avoids empty sentimentality in favour of the sober accumulation of facts.

And then the moment passes and you’re back where you should be – in the heart of this devastating true story.

How the Boston Globe uncovered the shocking scale of clergy child sex abuse in the city – a staunchly Catholic community – and, more shocking still, the deliberate and all-engulfing conspiracy by the church that ensured it went on, uninterrupted for decades.

“Did you try to tell anyone?” a reporter asks of an abuse survivor.

“Who? A priest?”

All of their actorly egos are minimised in the service of a story that takes a horrifying hold and never lets go. No-one dies, there are no bombs or blackmails but it is a film with a hypnotic momentum.
If anyone should doubt the merits of a healthy press, imagine another institution with the will to face down the might of a church that called down the power of God on its critics while secretly siphoning children to its paedophile priests. (“The preyed upon, not the prayed for.”)

“The church deals in centuries,” says lawyer Mitch to Ruffalo’s reporter. “Do you have the resources to take that on?”

“Do you?”

The film has six Oscar nominations. But awards seem like a gaudy distraction when the austere mission here – and it does feel like a mission – is so important.

This is a quiet film, suffused with deafening rage.

Spotlight | (15) 129mins | ★★★★★