Archive for category Movie Reviews

October: Bollywood Movie Review


In the movie “October”, there are no head spinning dance moves or villain trying to seduce the heroine or evil mother-in-law fomenting trouble. Without any over dramatization, Juhi Chaturvedi’s writing and Shoojit Sircar’s direction has created a masterpiece about love and humanity that isn’t cognitively complex but on the contrary, it’s simplicity stirs your soul.

Image result for October movieDan (Varun Dhawan), a hotel management student is an intern at a top notch hotel. While his batch mates are serious about their careers, Dan seems to be fumbling his way through. He certainly has no passion for his chosen career, shows little focus and dedication and plays many pranks that constantly gets him in trouble with his superiors. His batch mates try and cover for him but also tire of it and lecture him to shape up. Dan has simply not found his life’s purpose.

Image result for October movieIn a freak accident, one of his colleagues, Shiuli (Banita Sandhu) falls from the height of 30 feet and lands up at the hospital, in a coma. To the writer and director’s enormous credit, nothing that happens is overly dramatized. There isn’t overly complicated medical diagnosis, doctors are kind and humane, recovery progresses slowly. Banita Sandhu has given a fantastic performance as a comatose patient, from blank and stoic stares to gradual eye movements to emerging into consciousness with just few simple words, over a period of weeks and months.

Image result for October movie, Rachica OswalBut it is Dan’s reaction to the sudden incident that the story centers around. For some unknown reason, Dan is deeply affected by his colleague’s medical emergency. His involvement in her medical care and his soul stirring emotional journey, the gentle development of his character and characters of those around him including Shiuli’s mother, Vidya Iyer (incredibly well played by Gitanjali Rao), as well as that of the doctor and the nurse treating Shiuli and many of her friends is all seamless and graceful.

There is a short scene that tugs at your heartstrings where Dan’s mother (Rachica Oswal) visits Shiuli and there meets her mother, Vidya. This short scene is a tribute to mothers, who never give up, no matter how challenging the journey. Dan’s mother is not happy with Dan lacking career focus, wasting his fees that the the family has scrambled to pay, but despite noting his failures, she does not get judgemental about her son or give up on her son. Dan’s mother wants to continue to be a part of his life and understand for herself what moves him. And then there is Shiuli’s incredible mother who refuses to give up on her comatose daughter, despite many pressures of being a sole breadwinner and single parent to three children. Despite her life turning upside down by overwhelming medical emergency of her daughter, she finds solace and grace to be a pillar of strength and security for her two other children. She understands that life will always go on, if not for her own joy, at least for their sake, for their future.

This is a beautiful, gentle, graceful movie about love and humanity, and on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being excellent, I rate it a 4.8.

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Lipstick Under My Burkha – Movie Review


Directed by Alankrita Shrivastava, 2017 Bollywood film, “Lipstick Under My Burkha” gives an intimate, powerful glimpse into the lives of four women; Rihana (Plabita Borthakur) draped in burkha at home, helps her parents in sewing burkhas, but outside she does a quick identity change and steps into her jeans and sings Led Zeppelin songs; Shireen (Konkona Sen Sharma) lives the story of a submissive wife with her chauvinistic husband at home and excels at her secret job as a saleswoman during the day,  Leela (Aahana Kumra) works as a beautician and finds solace in sex, and Usha (Ratna Pathak Shah) is the respected Buaji to her family but in the lonely hours of the night, dreams of men and has clandestine phone sex.

Image result for lipstick under my burkha movieStories of these women unfold in the midst of a background narrative of Rozi, a fictional heroine in one of the racy romance novels that Buaji hides in her religious tomes and reads in her spare time. These four women live their lives on the the thin line between reality and dreams. They have to routinely lie, cheat and steal to rob few moments of joy from their unbearable lives.

Their stories are poignant and touching and at the same time, ordinary. For the most part, Indian society exhibits a great deal of hipocrisy. While hipocrisy in Indian society extends to practices and observances around religious rituals, behavior around elders, and observance of class and caste, most prominent and often shocking hipocritical norms and double standards are observed in expectations and prescribed rules of behavior specific to each gender. While a man lusting after a younger woman or having an affair outside his marriage may be looked down upon, it is considered much less severe than if a woman may have committed these offences; and how a society punishes a woman for the same offense if often far more harsh. Similarly, while most boys and men have freedom to wear clothes they choose, and have wide degrees of professional freedom, it is simply not so for women.

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This movie offers a window into the lives of ordinary women who strike deals with societal restrictions on a daily basis with alternating periods of acquiescing to the norms and restrictions and determinedly enjoying periods of bliss when they can. But the beauty in this movie is that it is also poignant in where this journey ends for these women, in the movie. While it is unclear how life will eventually unfold for each of these women, these ostracized women come together as comrades; they talk, laugh, and read and discuss Rozi’s fictional story. What is abundantly clear is that it is not the system that will change to accommodate them. The change will have to come from them and from their greater understanding and support of each other; that change only begins with dreams but it will take enormous commitment and courage on the path to greater fulfillment of the promise.

As Rihana reads last few pages of Rozi’s story, she comments
ye story bhi juth bolti hai, hamari life kharab ka deti hai
Translation: this fictional story also tells us lies
and Usha responds ……………
juth bolti hai shayad sapne dekhne ki himmat deti hai
Translation: It tells lies but gives us courage to dream
And  narration continues……….
Khidki ki salakhe ab rozi ko rok nahi sakti. Rozi ne bar savare, aansu ponche aur chokhat ke bahar kud padi.  pinjde me bandh sapno ki chabi akhir rozi ke dil ke andar hi thi.
Translation: Bars on the window can’t stop Rozi any more. Rozi combs her hair, dries her tears and jumps out. Photo of dreams locked inside the cage was after all inside Rozi’s heart.

Sometimes dream is a genie that is hard to push back in a bottle. As Dr. Martin Luther King famously said, “I have a dream” that started the process of change in the American society. Dreams help us imagine the possibilities and pave the path for courage and commitment required to change what has been until then normal.  This is a beautiful movie and on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being excellent), I rate it 4.8. This review is slightly late for women’s day but still in the window of women’s history month :).  Wishing all warrior women who drive the change on a daily basis and all courageous men who dare to dream of fair and inclusive society, a very happy women’s month.

 

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Molly’s Game – Movie Review


Based on the true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier, the film “Molly’s Game”, directed by Aaron Sorkin gives an intriguing insight in the the high stakes game of poker played almost exclusively by men with deep pockets. Jessica Chastain gives a superb performance, as Molly, the “Poker Princess” who ran underground poker games in upscale locations and found innovative ways to attract high rolling men, Hollywood celebrities, athletes and ultimately mobsters.

Image result for molly's gameMolly was an extremely successful athlete who suffered a back problem requiring surgery and insertion of a plate to hold her spine straight. She was advised to not ski competitively. But she was driven and would not quit that easily. Molly got back in the game and was well on her way to Olympics level participation when she suffered a terrible accident on the slopes that shattered young athlete’s dreams for competitive sports. Unable to ski and unhappy with her father, she left home. She shifted her focus to law school but then postponed it and moved to Los Angeles saying, “I wanted to be young for a while in warm weather”. That small detour from her goal of law school, took her down a path she had not imagined. Homeless and jobless, she first got to crash on her friend’s couch, got a job to make ends meet and then got an after hours second job that propelled her into the world of gambling.

Image result for molly's gameBy all accounts, the film is faithful to its subject, Molly Bloom. Her rise among the high net worth world mostly occupied by men, and her subsequent fall when FBI came knocking on the door are mere milestones in her journey. The film offers much more, including her getting beat up by the mob, her attorney’s (Idris Elba) strategy to negotiate with the FBI so she is not required to spend days in prison, Molly’s adamant refusal to cut any deals that would compromise the men who played at her tables; all of these seem like intriguing milestones. And then there is a small segment of her conversation with her psychologist father (Kevin Costner), that is both heart wrenching and heart warming and may define her future journey.  Let’s just say, Molly’s journey begins with the help of her high achieving father with high expectations of her and her siblings, and Molly’s journey takes a definite transformational turn with short three question therapy session with her father (Kevin Costner).

Image result for molly's gameMolly’s game is a fast paced drama with a fascinating peek into the high stakes word of private gambling and insight into how one incredibly brave and smart young woman’s life went off course from her goals, not once, not twice, but three times and journey may just be starting for next promising stage of her life.  On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent, I rate the film as 4.7. Yes, I loved it.

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All the Money in the World – Movie Review


Film “All the Money in the World”, written by David Scrapa, based on John Pearson’s book, and directed by Ridley Scott follows true story of kidnapping of 16 year old John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) who is heir to the Getty fortune, and his mother Gail’s (Michelle Williams) desperate attempts to facilitate his release mostly by trying to convince his billionaire grandfather Getty Sr. (Christopher Plummer) to pay the ransom.
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Image result for all the money in the worldAt the time of the kidnapping, Getty Sr. was the richest man in the world.  He had managed to amass his vast fortune through some savvy investments in oil rich real estate, and through founding of his company, Getty Oil. His estimated fortune was about $1.2B ($9.05B in 2017) and at the time of his death, his fortune was estimated to be $6B (equivalent to $18.06B in 2017). The ransom demands for release of his grandson bearing his name was $17M, a fraction of his vast fortune.

Image result for all the money in the worldGetty Sr. refused to meet the ransom demand and frustrated kidnappers reduced the demand to $3M.  Grandpa Getty’s response was that were he to meet any demands of the kidnappers, his 14 other grandchildren could also be kidnapped. Getty’s humming and hawing to pay what was a miniscule amount for him, in order to procure the release of his grandson, forms the crux of the drama that unfolds.

As the kidnappers become increasingly unpredictable, Gail makes desperate attempts, with the help of her attorney, J. Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to get Getty Sr to release money for the kidnappers. Earlier, Gail had written off Getty money while divorcing her druggist husband, in order to keep custody of her three young children. Now one of her child’s life was hanging in the balance, and she has no resources to meet the demands.

Getty Senior appears to be incapable of empathy. Clearly it isn’t about his love of money or greed alone that explains his strange behavior. It is something deeper than greed.  It is his lack of ability to relate with people on any level other than on a cognitive level. He feels more at home in his museum like palace among his collection of arts and artifacts, than with his family or any other people.

Image result for all the money in the worldSenior Getty’s continuing refusal to part with what is for him tiniest amount of money, to save not just any life but life of his own grandson, while repugnant, is also fascinating. It gives a peek into the old man’s psyche that is powered by amassing wealth and artifacts, and from making good deals. In  her role as Gail, Williams has beautifully shown tactical restraint in dealing with her father-in-law. It takes extreme suffering and agony of his family, before Getty is  able to part with the smallest drop from his vast fortune.

Getty had also installed a pay phone in his palace to keep his staff and guests from using telephones in the palace. In real life, another similar instance (where a grandchild needed money) had also occurred. At the age of 99 (in 2013) Getty’s fifth wife published her memoir in which she mentioned how her husband had scolded her for spending money too freely in the 1950s on the treatment of their six year old son who had become blind from a brain tumor and later died at the age of 12.  Such is the strong devotion to money for Getty Sr. Everything is a negotiation and presents a deal making opportunity and he refuses to acquiesce until the terms are right and pain and suffering don’t count.. 

It is a fascinating movie and on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent, I rate the movie as 4.5

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“Lady Bird” – Movie Review


Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig is a beautiful film about tender and turbulent ties that bind mothers and daughters. Marion McPherson (Laurie Metcalf) is a working woman, relentlessly focused on keeping her family afloat after the loss of her husband’s (Tracy Letts) job. She is also annoyingly controlling, deeply opinionated, and committedly compassionate.

Image result for lady bird movieQualities that we can live with and even find charming in other people’s mothers, are not necessarily so charming in our own mothers, and certainly not during the turbulent teen years, marked by hormones and rebellion, boyfriends and temptations. Saoirse Ronan is brilliant in the role of Marion’s daughter, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson” (I am a devoted fan now). It is heart wrenching when she tells her nagging mother, “I am sorry I am not perfect”.

Lady Bird is not happy with the idea of going to college in Sacramento, close to her family’s home.  Her eyes are set on New York. “I want to go where culture is”, she says. But her mother prefers that Lady Bird stay closer and go to in-state school and get a break on tuition.

Image result for lady bird movieIt falls on Lady Bird’s father to play a go-between in the conflicts of his wife and daughter. He is intuitively aware that even when daughters stray far physically or emotionally from their roots, they always come back and he assures Marion “she’ll be back, she’ll come back”.

Lady Bird keenly observes her town and surroundings, and approaches what she sees with a fresh perspective. Her principal congratulates her for writing a beautiful essay on Sacramento and opines that what comes through from the essay is her love for Sacramento. Lady Bird casually responds, “I just pay attention” and the principal says paying attention is in fact, a measure of love. It is only when Lady Bird goes far from her home that she gets an epiphany that it was her mother, who paid the most attention to her needs and milestones.

This is a beautiful film that focuses on subtle mother daughter conflicts and manages to avoid being overly dramatic. On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being excellent, I rate the film as 4.6.

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Tumhari Sulu – Movie Review


Unlike a typical feminist Bollywood heroine, Sulochana or Sulu (Vidya Balan) in this movie, is neither excelling in athletics (Mary Kom or Chak De India), nor is she on a mission (Kahaani), nor is she fighting for a right cause (Mardaani). Instead, film “Tumhari Sulu”, written and directed by Suresh Triven, is about a typical middle class suburban “housewife”, beaten down by her more ambitious and traditional family, buoyed by her love for her husband and son, and occasionally dreaming of a better life and yet perfectly happy with her life as it is.

Image result for tumhari suluSulu’s life takes a turn when her obsession with entering small contests and winning prizes lands her in the role of a nighttime RJ and catapults her to fame. Her husband Ashok (Manav Kaul) works as a manager in a small tailoring firm and puts up with inefficiency, disdain and insults from his bosses, just to bring home a paycheck.  With his wife’s entry into the workplace and resulting fame, Ashok not only has to deal with his work pressures in a dead end job, but has to pull higher load of responsibilities on the home front, while he is forced to listen to judgmental comments from others about his wife’s career.

How will Ashok and Sulu’s family resolve the new challenge that is rocking their relationship? Vidya Balan is highly entertaining as Sulu and Manav Kaul has played a strong supportive role. The challenges faced by this family may easily mirror those faced by many suburban middle class families and their experiences when gender roles go through a ringer. With fabulous cast and excellent subject matter, this film had a huge potential to be one of the social blockbuster films. Instead with unnecessarily elongated time, useless songs, weak climax and slow meandering pace, it seems to lose focus and fails to leave a mark.

On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being excellent, I rate it a 3.2 .

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Badshaho – Movie Review


Image result for badshahoDirected by Milan Luthria, film Badshaho is set during India’s emergency era of 1975, about 27 years post independence, when a few laggard prince and princesses were still struggling to hide their collections of gold, silver and other precious artifacts. During that time Rani Gitanjali’s (Ileana D’Cruz) palace in Jaipur is raided and she is arrested for withholding gold without declaration.

Rani Gitanjali is a political maverick and she understands how the game is played in politics. She believes that despite government seizing her gold, it is more likely to fall in the hands of corrupt political leaders, especially the one she has spurned. She gets the news that the gold is to be transferred via road to Delhi in a truck. Gitanjali arranges with her trusted prior bodyguard Bhawani Singh (Ajay Devgan) to intercept the transfer and seize it back from Major Seher Singh (Vidyut Jamwal), the officer in charge of the transfer. Bhawani Singh recruits help from Gitanjali’s trusted friends and helpers, Sanjana (Esha Gupta) Guruji (Sanjay Mishra) and Dalia (Emraan Hashmi).

Image result for badshahoThe journey between Jaipur and Delhi is marked by many twists and turns, obstacles, and revelations of heart thumping secrets. Emran Hashmi has done a fabulous job and keeps us riveted with his banter and jokes. Esha Gupta and Sanjay Mishra also give great performance. As always, Ajay Devgan’s performance suits the role of more serious, slightly angry, goal focused hero. So focused he is in serving, he says, जुबान और जान सिर्फ एक ही बार जावे. Ileana’s performance is also good. Specifically telling is her slightly awkward, distant stance every time she interacts with her subjects. Story is fast moving and holds the interest. Unfortunately, it seems like the budget ran out before this riveting drama can be brought to a meaningful climax. The end feels abrupt and takes away from what could have been a thrilling end where not only corruption meets justice but trust and friendship are rewarded. Perhaps the waiting airplane could have been put to good use to create such an end!

On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being excellent, I rate this movie 4.2  

 

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Punjab Nahi Jaungi – Movie Review


“Punjab Nahi Jaungi”, a beautiful film coming out of Pakistani Cinema is brilliantly directed by Nadeem Beyg. Not only the accent is lovely to listen to but the dialogues are beautiful.  Writing credits go to Khalil-ur-Rehman and Qamar.

Image result for punjab nahin jaongiSoon after Fawad Khagga (Humayun Saeed) returns home to Faisalabad after earning an MA, he plunges headlong into finding and then acquiring his “Heer”. Coincidentally, Amal (Mehwish Hayat) has also just returned to Karachi after completing her studies in London. Fawad’s mother makes the journey to welcome Amal, daughter of close family friends and instantly likes Amal and plans with her husband and father-in-law to ask for her hand for her son, Fawad.  Fawad receives Amal’s photo and instantly falls in love with her. Meanwhile his cousin Durdana (Urwa Hocane) is in love with him and unsuccessfully tries to win his love.

Here Amal rejects Fawad’s proposal as she explains to her grandmother, Bibouji that she is against feudalism.  Lest anyone imagines that this will turn into a typical feminist movie where a young woman fights the system to win her love, let me assure you that is not how the story proceeds. On the other hand it is also not a non-feminist movie. Sorry for the double negative.

Image result for punjab nahin jaongiSo you may ask, “is it a feminist movie or is it not a feminist movie”? In truth, it is a love story where a woman is stronger and smarter than any men she encounters. In fact, all women are stronger than the men around them. While there is one short moment where Amal tries to make her husband a CEO of the company she grows, she does not try to dumb down herself and no one in her immediate circles thinks any less of her. It is a story where she does not have to take on the feudal system that may seek to keep her closed behind a veil. And yet when the men in her life misbehave, they learn fast about the fury of the woman scorned.  Any attempts that are made by the family members are not to change HER but HIM. As the misbehaving man is explained that mistake is his and therefore he has to accept her decision because he can’t succeed going against her because after all.. “ महोब्बत में औरत से कोई जीता नहीं है और नफरत में औरत से कोई हारा नहीं है.”

Image result for punjab nahin jaongiWhile the message is deep and the story is poignant at times, it is also a comedy with many funny moments and fantastic dialogues, delivered at the right moments. One such dialog is about a moment of infidelity. At one point, Amal’s husband feels envious of her business success and turns to the villainess, holds her in intimate embrace and says “please help me”. It would have been the start of infidelity but it got interrupted by Amal’s entry. Amal is furious and insists that he is guilty because his intention was bad. She takes her case to her family and her husband’s family. Almost everyone rises to her defense against her husband and quotes the sentence “please help me” as evidence of the infidelity that would have happened.

Nadeem Bayg’s direction is flawless. The story of respect for women is beautifully told without over dramatization or examples of grave injustice to women.  Maywish Hayat wins over hearts with her graceful, effortless performance.

On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being excellent, I rate this movie 4.8 .

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“Sully” – Movie Review


The movie, Sully is centered around the incident that came to be known as “Miracle on the Hudson”, where Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) with his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) is forced to make an emergency landing in New York’s Hudson River and manages to do it skillfully, saving every single passenger on board.

Within minutes after takeoff, US Airways Flight 1549 had a head to head collision with a flock of Canadian geese and the airplane lost all power. Under tremendous pressure to save lives of all on board the airplane which was now quickly losing altitude, Sully decided to land in the vast expanse of the icy Hudson, something that had never been successfully done before.  Prior to the decision, he quickly considered a return to LaGuardia or the closer Teterboro airport in New Jersey and decided that both those possibilities were more risky with a real chance of losing lives on board and on ground, if the airplane would not make it. Landing in the river would make it possible for rescue workers, choppers, and ferryboats to come to their quick rescue.
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Clearly the miraculous landing was celebrated in the media and Sully was hailed as a hero. But privately, behind the scenes, Sully’s actions were coming under scrutiny by the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB began to grill Sully and his co-pilot relentlessly. At first, Sully was certain but over time, the double guessing began to take its toll and he had moments of doubt that he shared with his wife Lorrie (Laura Linney).  

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Sully is a modest man with years of flying experience under his belt and he does not shy away from the attention, neither does he crave it.
Tom Hanks does a tremendous justice in his character as Sully, playing it with just the right touch of subtlety and show of confidence. Special kudos to Louisa Abel, Makeup department head, for excellent job on the makeup where Hanks comes as close to looking like Sully as he possibly could.  This is a beautiful movie that restores our faith in the power of human decision making which supersedes technology, although that may be true only when a person is equipped with experience to carefully (and albeit quickly) consider various alternative scenarios and pick the one that may be just right to avert the disaster.  On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being excellent, I rate the movie as 4.7 .

 

 

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Spotlight – Movie Review


Spotlight is a fact based story that began in 2001, with editor Marty Baron of The Boston Globe starting to investigate allegations against a priest accused of molesting nearly 80 boys.  Boston Globe’s coverage earned the publication, a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003.  Written by Josh Singer and Thomas McCarthy, and directed by McCarthy, the movie features a noteworthy cast with Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, Live Schreiber, and John Slattery.


The coverage of Boston Globe eventually
unearthed a scandal so massive that it shook up centuries old, revered institution, to its core.  As a team of reporters begin to interview victims and try to unseal sensitive documents, they find that widespread molestation was going on in Boston and around the world, for decades.  The corrupting system with its power and secrecy, not only protected the perpetrators, but also afforded them a perfect environment for to continue their transgressions.  Victims were paid off, priests were transferred, court documents were removed illegally from the court, and its litany of lawyers worked to protect the reputation of the church.  The movie focuses on journalism accuracy, over sensationalism and lurid details.

Investigation compels the team to reflect on their own conduct as to why such a massive scandal continued and went unreported in the media, for decades.  Editor Marty Baron brings the team’s focus back to the task at hand, Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around the dark. Suddenly, a light gets turned on and there’s a fair share of blame to go around. I can’t speak to what happened before I arrived, but all of you have done some very good reporting here. Reporting that I believe is going to have an immediate and considerable impact on our readers. For me, this kind of story is why we do this.”

There is also some internal disagreement.  When the reporters find solid proof of nailing one priest of the crime, and wish to go ahead with the story, they are stopped from rushing to print.  When they find that as many as 90 priests may be involved, they are still stopped from rushing to print the story.  The reporters argue that if they don’t print then somebody else will, and in the process may butcher the story.  The response they get is “Baron told us to get the system.  We need the full scope.  That’s the only thing that will put an end to this”.  

The movie not only shines a spotlight on the massive crime occurring behind the walls of an institution that should inspire complete trust, but it also shines a spotlight on what untarnished journalism can be.  True journalism can be thorough, considered, and can have a mission.  

Baron: We need to focus on the institution, not the individual priests. Practice and policy; show me the church manipulated the system so that these guys wouldn’t have to face charges, show me they put those same priests back into parishes time and time again. Show me this was systemic, that it came from the top, down.

Ben: Sounds like we’re going after Law.
Baron: We’re going after the system.

In the end, a team of dedicated journalists brought down the curtain on corruption surrounding the sexual molestation of children, inside the house of faith.  As many as 250 priests were found to be involved in molesting children, over several decades.  “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one”, and it takes courage and commitment from dedicated journalists to shine a spotlight.  This is also superb piece of film-making.  On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent, I rate the movie as 4.9.

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