It can be difficult to fairly assess movies dealing with issues as emotive and important as this does – the story of Boston-based investigative journalists who helped expose systemic child sex abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests, and covered up by the Catholic Church. But this is a movie review, not an awards-giving ceremony for the worthiness of its subject matter, and I have to judge how it succeeds as a movie.
There are two routes the based-on-real life genre can go down. Either it wins us over on the strength of its drama – engaging us as cinematic stories grounded in reality, in the vein of Apollo 13. Alternatively, all artifice is dropped to function on sheer naked portrayal, in the vein of 12 Years a Slave. This attempts to be the former. Simply put, I was never convinced of its dramatic credentials. Beyond a couple of minor subplots, the team steadily uncover the scale of the scandal with the minimum of fuss. Which is not to disparage the real work of these people – why should the uncovering of an abuse scandal be exciting, or cinematic? Some stories don’t need to be sexed up to make them cinematic, and some stories should never be. This film has not been sexed up, but it’s still a movie-investigation, with movie-montages and movie-music, played by all-too recognisable actors in modes they long ago made their own. That’s not a problem if the drama has the wherewithal to succeed on its own terms. Restrained outrage inherent to your subject matter isn’t enough.