Alex Casey is a staff writer for New Zealand pop culture-obsessed website The Spinoff and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Alex Casey: Paper's shining lights

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Movie reminds of the power of investigative journalism.
Spotlight is in cinemas now. Photo / Supplied
Spotlight is in cinemas now. Photo / Supplied

Of all the films creating buzz during awards season, none I have seen so far pack as much punch as the true story depicted in Spotlight. It provides more heart-stopping thrills than Leonardo DiCaprio ripping into bison guts in The Revenant, more of an insight into a seemingly-stale profession than Ryan Gosling playing Jenga in The Big Short, and will awaken an anger more potent than anything Mad Max could dream of.

And it somehow manages this without flashy special effects, excruciatingly desperate method acting or a naked Margot Robbie in a bubble bath.

The biographical drama follows a small group of journalists working at The Boston Globe in 2001, under the coveted Spotlight banner. The oldest investigative team in
the United States, Spotlight is still going strong today.

After a new editor Marty Baron (played by Liev Schreiber) unearths a story about a local Catholic priest accused of paedophilia, the team set about unravelling the biggest story of their lives.

The corruption knows no end, the systematic covering of the truth ensuring an incomprehensible cycle of abuse. The Spotlight team discover they are barely afloat on the tip of a tragic, earth-shattering iceberg.

Gripping from the first moment, Spotlight is refreshing in its control and restraint. The momentous story speaks for itself, the characters as understated and natural as the tired pleather jacket resting on Mark Ruffalo's shoulders. It's a reminder that you don't have to live in an igloo, freeze your eyeballs to your tongue and eat half a tree branch to pull off a powerful performance.

There's something commanding in their their dogged determination to circle lists and photocopy files. It all amounts to something immeasurable in importance, a tectonic shift in thinking about some of our most powerful institutions.

The film slowly chips away at revealing the facts, gripping and twisting at every turn - but the subtle direction also helps to enforce the pervasiveness of this particular type of institutional abuse.

Wide shots of crummy apartments housing ex-victims are shadowed by immense, ornamental churches looming right next door. They are always watching.

A rushed taxi ride to the court passes mothers and fathers pushing their children on swings at a park. One journalist must face the walk home every night past othe house of a guilty priest, unable to tell neighbours and bound by the publication date to keep the secret to himself.

Beyond the abject tragedy at the heart of the film, is another layer of meta-commentary that is difficult to ignore.

For their efforts in this story, the Globe's Spotlight team received a Pulitzer Prize for their public service in 2003.

The team published more than 600 stories on the issue, gave a voice to hundreds of victims and strength to what I can only assume would be hundreds of thousands more.

But this story took time, effort, resources and good faith. As is explained in the film,
the story very nearly slipped through the cracks.

So would the same have happened if it had surfaced in 2016? I couldn't help but be reminded of the loss of the likes of Campbell Live, 3D and the wider descent of news into empty calorie snacks.

As the characters pour their time and energy into the investigation, there's a relishing in every revelation, eyes widening and hearts breaking as the smokescreens clear.

Spotlight couldn't have come at a better time as a reminder of the importance of investigative journalism and its potential to reveal the corruption that other institutions would much rather brush under the rug.

For shining a light on this ever-dimming pursuit, and telling a powerful story exceptionally well, Spotlight deserves your full attention.

Rated M, in cinemas now.

- Spy.co.nz

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Alex Casey is a staff writer for New Zealand pop culture-obsessed website The Spinoff and columnist for the NZ Herald.

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