‘Spotlight’ draws a curious — but no longer outraged — crowd

24 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

AT THE MOVIES: Spotlight a tribute to persistence of investigative journalists.

BOSTON (CBS) – The new film “Spotlight” opened Friday to strong reviews around the country but one Boston man says his reputation has been ruined by the way he was portrayed. Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy weren’t necessarily digging for a scoop while researching the 2002 Boston Globe exposé of the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal for the screenplay that would become Spotlight.“Spotlight,” the movie about The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of the coverup of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, had its general release on Friday and film critics agree: “Spotlight” is one of the best movies of the year.

For all the severity of its subject matter, Tom McCarthy’s extraordinary journalism drama Spotlight (in theaters now) is not a movie of noble gestures and emotive Oscar-bait moments.Ask anyone who has worked for a newspaper to name the best movie ever made about our profession, and it’s an upset when All the President’s Men isn’t the first title mentioned. Spotlight chronicles the work of dogged Boston Globe reporters who uncovered the secrecy in the archdiocese of Boston that allowed the clergy sex abuse crisis to go unreported for decades. After all, they were already standing on the shoulders of giants – the Globe’s Spotlight team of investigative journalists had won the Pulitzer Prize for their series of articles that revealed how the Boston archdiocese, led by Cardinal Bernard Law, had shielded predator priests for more than three decades, shuffling them to different parishes when they molested children and shelling out millions to victims in confidential settlements. Boston College public affairs director Jack Dunn, former Globe reporter Stephen Kurkjian, former Globe publisher Richard Gilman, and victim lawyer Eric MacLeish all say their actions were misrepresented in a way that casts them in a negative light, apparently in an effort to add drama to the film. “All I want to do is to clear my name, and for the film producers to admit that they fabricated the dialogue to accommodate the narrative of the movie,” Dunn said. “They manufactured dialogue because they needed a villain, and they chose apparently to make me a villain.” Kurkjian is mentioned in the film as being dismissive of a key tipster.

The movie sickened him because he is portrayed as someone who minimized the suffering of those who were sexually abused, as someone who tried to steer Globe reporters away from the story, as someone invested in the coverup. “The things they have me saying in the movie, I never said,” Dunn said. “But worse is the way they have me saying those things, like I didn’t care about the victims, that I tried to make the story go away. But one scene at BC High shows Jack Dunn, an alumnus of the school, reacting to news of an abusive priest there as if he was complicit in the cover-up. Not only had the Globe published an official book documenting the Spotlight team’s findings, Betrayal, but all their articles, including the more than 600 stories published in 2002 — leading to Law’s resignation — were available online. He told the Herald yesterday he “never spoke poorly of” the tipster to his editors, and said he’s demanded an apology from the director and screenwriter. “They sort of put words in our mouth. Plus, the screenwriters had access to many of the Globe’s key people, including those depicted in the film: Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery), and Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber).

You can’t do that and not have your motives and your professionalism called into question,” said Kurkijian, who declined to say if he’ll take legal action. “I’m at a loss to understand how they could have created these scenes so cavalierly.” Gilman, in an editorial in the Arizona Daily Star, said the movie has him voicing reservations he never had about how the reporting might affect the Globe’s bottom line. “Some of the fictionalizing is harmless. According to that point of analogy, Schreiber’s top boss role is similar to Jason Robards’ Oscar-winning part as the saucy, colorful Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.

Some is not,” wrote Gilman, who could not be reached for comment. “The movie is dealing with real people with real names with real reputations. … But Baron, who left the Boston Globe in 2012 and incidentally now runs the Washington Post, is a quieter and more reticent personality, especially for a newsman.

When the Spotlight logo appeared in the Globe, there was a good chance someone was going to be indicted, or major changes would be enacted — or the greater Boston community would learn something they never knew about their beloved city. It’s equally devastating to his family, including his son, a current BC High senior who Dunn says stepped up to defend his father when his class went together to see the film. “As boys do they kind of looked around and my son stood up and said ‘I need you to know my father’s a very good man’ and that my son had to defend me for doing the right thing on behalf of people that I love on behalf of the truth has been very difficult for me.” Dunn has hired a lawyer who has now issued a letter demanding that the scene be stricken from the movie and that producers admit this was a fabrication about him done for dramatic effect so that the focus can back where it belongs on the victims of clergy abuse.

Injustices are done.” MacLeish, who obtained an $85 million settlement for victims, wrote on Facebook on Nov. 6 that a conversation in which Globe reporter Walter Robinson threatens to end MacLeish’s “cottage industry” of settlements never occurred. Having arrived from his previous job at the Miami Herald as the film begins, Baron is viewed with suspicion by most of his staff — and the good ol’ boy Irish Catholic culture. Nor did the scene where Pfeiffer searches the archives and brings the clipping of the December 1993 story to Robinson, proving MacLeish correct: it ran on B42 and didn’t include any of the priests’ names. And a later scene, where Robinson admits to his colleagues that he had been the Metro editor back in ‘93, accepting his role in not catching the story sooner, didn’t happen either.

Robinson graduated from BC High, and his character expresses incredulity that previous BC High administrators didn’t know about the serial abuse by one Rev. The penetrating screen presence which the actor has brought to dozens of roles during his 20 year film and TV career — including The Daytrippers, The Sum of All Fears, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and Ray Donovan, not to mention his Tony-winning work on stage — has been tightly coiled in Spotlight into a stealth tiger of a man, whose calmness betrays his deep ethical conviction. Though they already knew the main beats of the story they wanted to tell, they met with the Boston attorney — who’d represented numerous plaintiffs in complaints against the Church in the early 1990s — if only to help with casting.

And Schreiber, for the miraculously ego-less way in which he communicates that, gives what just might just be the most nuanced, subtly commanding performance of his life. Intrigued by a story about an abrasive, wild-card Armenian attorney named Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), who is representing numerous families alleging their children were abused by priests, and tales of the church responding to these allegations by offering small cash settlements and transferring the offending priests to other parishes where they would have access to more children, Baron assigns the Spotlight team to investigate. But not long into their chat, MacLeish dropped the bomb. “It was a little bit like the moment that’s in the movie: You had 20 priests’ [names] in Boston?” says Singer. “My reaction was quite similar to Rachel and Michael’s in that scene: That can’t possibly be true. But Schreiber, 48, still felt an enormous sense of responsibility when he accepted the part. “I was immensely proud to be playing Marty Baron,” he says. “There have been a couple roles in my lifetime that I thought, ‘This is really special.’ Marty is way up on that list, right up there with Hamlet and Iago. Artistic license means screenwriters and filmmakers can take a scene from real life and make it a composite that serves what they consider a larger truth.

The irony, of course, is that “Spotlight” has been widely and rightly praised for the way it captures the minutiae of what newspaper reporters do in pursuit of hard-to-get stories like the clergy abuse scandal. I believed every inch of all four performances, from Pfeiffer’s utter indifference to her wardrobe and her dogged efforts to obtain key interviews; to Rezendes’ obnoxiously aggressive methods; to Carroll’s feelings of conflict when family and journalistic ethics collide — to the terrible eating habits of one and all. But in doing so, “Spotlight,” like other films that take on real-life stories, engages in something that is anathema to journalism — making up characters and dialogue. The caveat employed by filmmakers is that most elastic of phrases, “based on a true story.” But in the interest of transparency, that sort of disclaimer should be augmented with the words “but we reserve the right to make stuff up.” The real problem highlighted in Jack Dunn’s case is that fictional dialogue meant to highlight the obstruction thrown up by Catholic powerbrokers was put into the mouth of a real person, creating real-life consequences. But he did it brilliantly, giving the character an intensity that might unnerve even me.” Schrieber spoke to EW from the set of his forthcoming biopic about professional boxer Chuck Wepner, and talked about his approach to playing a man of great stature in the quietest of tones.

LIEV SCHREIBER: I remember the story when it broke, but not really until it had made national news, which was even some time after the Globe article came out. It’s not easy to make an emotionally involving film in which pivotal moments are about phone calls and making copies of documents and a source circling names on a document — but save for a few overly dry moments, Spotlight prevails. I think it raises the specter of just good reporters going after a bad institution, into more of a question of societal deference and complicity toward institutional or individual power. I guess I have had, since starting Ray Donovan, I did a bunch of research into SNAP [Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests] and learned about the general timeline with the John Geoghan case and Cardinal Law, but that was long after the case broke. High-ranking officials with Catholic Charities, attorneys who worked for the church, even the cardinal himself — they all trust Robby will do what’s best.

What they don’t understand is Robby is a journalist through and through, and for him what’s best is uncovering the truth, making sure that truth is extremely well-sourced — and sharing that truth with the city. Though Porter had worked in the Fall River archdiocese, south of Boston, Cardinal Law became a loud critic of the media’s coverage, and in particular, what was being printed by the Globe. The good and dedicated people who serve the church deserve better than what they have been getting day in and day out in the media. … We call down God’s power on our business leaders, and political leaders and community leaders.

Because, you kind of hope that people still have appetites for that kind of story — as you also hope that people still have appetites for long-lead investigative journalism — but we all know that it’s a very tough market for that. There was always a suspicion that guys like me, guys like us, were sniping unfairly.” Matchan encountered the same resistance. “After I finished that magazine story, I thought, there’s so much more to say about this. A lot of credit for that goes to Tom and Josh, for creating an environment — and staying true to it — where there’s no need for big theatrics or banner movie moments. I think if an actor leads in a story like this, you think, “What a great performance.” But you really come away from this movie just thinking about this incredibly important journalistic resource is in our culture. I think we found that incredibly heroic, because that also was the interaction we had with him.” Robinson has been front and center in the film’s promotion, in part because the film captures his profession at its best, at a time in 2015 when most newspapers and media outlets are slashing staff and eliminating investigative reporting. “We’re reporters and we stumble around the dark a lot,” he says. “We start out pretty damn ignorant, and we don’t even know how to ask the right questions until we sort of dig around for awhile.

And by doing it that way, by having us uncover [our initial oversight], Tom makes it possible for a pretty large audience to confront something that they might otherwise avert their eyes to.” But looking at me, sitting in his office, he was probably thinking, “What the hell is this guy who plays on Ray Donovan, whatever the hell that is, going to do with me?” And that would make anyone run for the hills. Whatever those questions that they had, about his spirituality or his sexuality or whatever, were the questions of desperate gossips trying to defend themselves from the truth.

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