Some people are saying that Spotlight is the best journalism movie since All The President’s Men.  I actually think it’s better.

spotlight-image-1Spotlight tells the story of the Boston Globe‘s breaking of the story of priest pedophilia and sexual abuse in Boston — a story that helped trigger the worldwide focus on priestly child abuse in the Catholic Church.  It’s got all of the elements of the classic film about reporting:  the team of tough, hard-bitten reporters and editors, the shoe-leather reporting work of trying to convince reluctant sources to talk, the efforts of powerful people and institutions to bury the story, the tough decisions on when to publish . . . as well as the inevitable footage of the newspapers rolling through the printing presses and being bundled and delivered when the story finally hits the front page.  The film is a riveting story of criminal cover-ups and secrecy and dogged reporters finally getting to the truth.

But what really lifts the movie into the realm of greatness, in my view, is the rawness of the story that the reporters were trying to exposed.  In a film chock full of terrific performances, some of the most powerful are given by the actors playing the devastated, humiliated, emotionally crippled abuse victims . . . and, interestingly, by the defenders of the Catholic Church struggling to rationalize their unrationalizable efforts to maintaining the silence about terrible, unpardonable criminal conduct.  And when the movie comes to its potent final scene, and on the day the story hits the newspaper the investigative reporting team is bombarded with phone calls from victims that reveal that the priestly abuse problem is even more severe than they dreamed, the viewer can’t help by be amazed and sickened that so many people allowed such inexcusable conduct to go on, victimizing new generations of children, for so long.  The movie’s message hits like a sledgehammer to the gut.

The script for the movie is terrific, the actors playing the investigative reporting team — Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James — are all excellent, and I particularly liked Liev Schreiber as the taciturn new editor who cues the reporters in to the story lurking under their noses and Stanley Tucci as the lawyer for the victims who has no expectations that the Globe will actually tackle the dominant religious institution in town.  The finest performances, though, were of the actors playing the emotionally wrecked abuse victims.  Their characters shift Spotlight from a traditional fast-paced reporting movie into an emotional powerhouse.

This is a must-see movie.

The Mission Trail


The church at the Mission San Jose

San Antonio and its environs are home to four of the early Spanish missions — or at least, what remains of them.  From an historical preservation standpoint, the centuries have not been kind.

Yesterday I had a chance to visit two of the four missions, San Jose and Concepcion.  San Jose is the most complete mission, with its outer wall intact and the small rooms where Indian converts and visitors lived available for a look.  They are spartan, but practical — about what you would expect in a development that was intended to be an outpost of civilization in an untamed land.  Some of the outbuildings and outdoor ovens also may be found there, as well as the ruins of a convent.


The facade of the cathedral at Mission San Jose

The centerpiece of the missions, of course, was the cathedral, and the church at San Jose Mission is striking — with a beautiful facade that features statuary of the saints and renderings of hearts, shells, and other meaningful symbols.  I wasn’t able to see the interior of the cathedral, for reasons I’ll explain in a minute.  At one time the church was covered with brightly colored tile that must have presented a dazzling sight for weary travelers on the dusty Texas plains, but most of the tiles are gone and the church now stands as a stone monument.

Mission Concepcion, which is found in the middle of a neighborhood, is much less complete.  It consists of a church, a well, some ruins, and a prayer area.  The church itself is simple, and what you would expect to find at a Spanish mission, with whitewashed interior walls.  Some signs of the former frescoes in the church may be seen, but for the most part the church interior has been decorated with modern paintings and furnishings.

The two missions must be popular wedding options.  When I visited yesterday, both were busy hosting nuptial ceremonies — which is why I was unable to see the interior of the church at San Jose.  That was disappointing, but I found myself feeling good about the fact that the churches were still being used as churches.  A lot of work went into building these missions, which served as agents of colonialism but also as a testament to the power of religious faith.  It’s nice to see that, centuries later, that part of the mission is still being served.


At Mission Concepcion

The Pope’s Decision

Pope Benedict XVI announced today that he is resigning the papacy, effective February 28.  He’s the first Pope in centuries to resign.

Benedict, who is 85, said he was resigning because he felt his strength had deteriorated.  He believes that leading the Catholic Church requires strength of mind and body and concluded that his failing condition was leaving him unable to adequately perform his duties.

I’m not a Catholic, and I therefore can’t speak knowledgeably about whether Pope Benedict has been a good Pope, a bad Pope, or something in between.  However, I can applaud the Pope’s resignation decision as an all-too-rare example of selflessness and self-awareness by a powerful individual who could easily have served in his office until his death.  How many Popes have been unable to let go of the trappings of office and the adulation that accompanies it?  How many have been unwilling to acknowledge their declining physical and mental abilities?  How many have been content to let their responsibilities drift as their individual capacities have diminished?

I wish more significant public figures — be they Popes, or Senators, or sports stars, or others — were willing to engage in objective self-evaluation and step aside upon concluding that they were no longer up to the job.  Perhaps Benedict’s surprising decision will cause other people in important public jobs to consider whether they, too, should make room for a more active, energetic replacement.