Movies of the Year: A Bracing Dose of Reality

The American Prospect


This year’s most powerful movies all draw on actual events and tackle big public issues and ethical dilemmas.

The most powerful movies of the year were based on actual events. All combined big public issues with private ethical dilemmas, and provided vehicles for terrific thrillers as well. The fact that we knew the outcome in advance did nothing to detract—the suspense was in how the protagonists found their way to the conclusion. Even better, these movies offered career-topping performances for several of the leads.

Start with the amazing “Spotlight.” In January 2002, Boston Globe readers picked up their newspapers to learn that a Catholic priest had engaged in serial episodes of sexual child abuse. But this was just the beginning. The four-person team reporting the story had discovered that close to 200 Boston area priests had been serial abusers, that the Church hierarchy—right to up the unctuous Cardinal Bernard Law—knew all about the pattern and had orchestrated a cover-up. Catholic leaders had even arranged to have the church’s lawyers pay small settlements to victims in exchange for legally enforceable vows of silence.

Offending priests were shuttled from parish to parish, to assault new victims, occasionally making pit stops to be stashed in special halfway houses. By the time it was over, Law had resigned and had been packed off to Rome, more than 1,200 victims had come forward, and the predatory priest cover-up had unraveled in scores of cities in the US and worldwide—all because newspaper reporters spent months doing serious digging, tracking down humiliated victims, scouring court documents, and unearthing church records.

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