Is it true, for real?

Spotlight and Brooklyn. How accurate are they?


Will the real Walter "Robby" Robinson please stand up?
Will the real Walter Robinson please stand up?

Plot: This is the “true” story about how a group of four reporters on The Boston Globe discover the Catholic Church’s massive coverup of the abuse by at least 700 priests of children and young people in their parishes–and this was in Massachusetts alone. The four reporters went through a bit of soul-searching themselves as they uncovered the story. They are: Walter “Robby” Robinson (played by Michael Keaton), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), and Matt Carroll (Brian D’Arcy). At the time, these four comprised the Globe’s “Spotlight unit,” and conducted extensive research and interviews. This took place in 2001-2002. In 2002, they published their exposé in a series of articles in the Globe.

Bottom Line:  Most film pundits have placed Spotlight right up there at the top of their lists for best movies of 2015.

How accurate is Spotlight? To answer that question, I turn to the very source, The Boston Globe.

Boston Globe

How Accurate? Spotlight is pretty darn accurate. The real reporters read the script and approved of it.

Here are three perspectives on the movie’s truths:

They wrote the essays: Walter Robinson, Sacha Pfeiffer, Mike Rezendes
They wrote about what it was like to be portrayed on the screen: Walter Robinson, Sacha Pfeiffer, Mike Rezendes
  1. The Real Reporters:

On November 8th, the Globe published the accounts by three of the reporters portrayed in the movie–Walter V. Robinson (Michael Keaton), Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), and Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams).  (See photo on the right.) The reporters write about their experiences as the actors followed them around and studied their every move.

When the movie came out, the reporters were absolutely awestruck by how well the actors mimicked them. Michael Rezendes likened the experience to looking into a “fun house mirror.”

Here is a video of reporters Michael Rezendes and Walter V. Robinson talking about it.

2. The director:

Who is real and the actor?
Separated at birth?

An interview of director Michael McCarthy by the Globe’s Soren Anderson was published on November 8th.

McCarthy was raised Catholic in Boston. He says that growing up, he “had a deep understanding of the faith…[but] the issue of clergy abuse of vulnerable young people shocked him. ‘I have struggled with it.'”

Making “Spotlight” was his way of trying to make sense of it all.

3. The maligned: in the movie, the Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdam characters talk to three characters, one of whom is Jack Dunn.  In the movie Dunn appears to defend a Catholic high school’s coverup of the Church scandal and make light of the victims’ ordeals. The real Jack Dunn, however, told the media that the movie portrayed him exactly the opposite of who he is and what he did in response to the scandal. He would never say what his character says, he insists. He was so upset that when he left the movie theater that he threw up on the sidewalk. When Dunn’s son and his class went on a field trip to see the movie, his son felt compelled to defend his father, which also upset Dunn.

The real Jack Dunn
The real Jack Dunn

Kevin Cullen, in his column in the Globe on November 2nd, sympathized with Dunn. He points out that at the time, the Globe published a story that lauded the actions Dunn took in response to the scandal.

Cullen eloquently suggests that the “elastic”phrase, “this movie is based on a true story” should be expanded: “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 reporters who spoke to Dunn insist that the 2002 conversation transpired exactly as it does in the movie.

Dunn hired a lawyer, who wrote a letter to the powers that be and asked them to leave the scene out of the movie. The scene is approx two minutes in an approx 2 hour movie. The film’s Jack Dunn has two lines. The powers refused to delete the scene. In my opinion the movie does portray Dunn as one of a string of “bad guys” who aided the Church in its coverup.  (I saw the movie and recall those two lines.)

Here is a video of Jack Dunn in an interview on CBS.

Well, that’s that about Spotlight.

So what about another movie praised as one of the best of 2015 that is NOT based on a specific story. Is its world true to life?


Will the real Saoirse Dunn please stand up?
Will the real Saoirse Dunn please stand up?

Plot: A girl (Saoirse Ronan) leaves her mother and sister and her small-town existence in Ireland for a promise of a better life in America. After crossing the Atlantic on a ship, guess where she lives?

You would be right if you had guessed Brooklyn.

You would be a little dim if you hadn’t.

I read a whole bunch of reviews touting this movie as embodying the immigrant experience; showing immigration as the very fabric of America; and demonstrating the pain and suffering of the immigrants, who leave their homes to try to find better opportunities in a foreign country that they have no idea how to navigate.

But then I found a sarcastic, witty review on a site with a great name:

Review by Dan Schindel

Spoilers skimmable? Not really. He gives too much of the story away, which is too bad because he’s funny! Read it after you see the movie.

Bottom Line: 2 out of 4 stars.

Schindel does not object to the inaccuracy of the movie’s portrayal of immigration. The movie doesn’t profess to be accurate, he says. It’s about “exploring the meaning of home and telling an old-fashioned romance story.” He does, however, object to its lightness. The conflicts feel “low pressure,” he argues, and the movie does not dig deep enough to give us significant insight.

The movie is well made, continues Schindel, and Ronan is a master of subtlety and physicality. (If she is not Oscar bait, I don’t know who is.)

But the director and screenwriter play it too safe. The America where the immigrants live is “so clean that the dirt on a plumber’s jeans seems decorative, and any swearing is rendered adorable by the inflection of an Irish brogue.”

The result?

“Brooklyn is tasteful almost to the point of being anodyne (a medicine that relieves pain or distress).” (I looked it up.)

It reminds me of someone who is super nice, does everything right, but never has opinions.

The result?

Ho hum. Boring company.



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