SHE SAID

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Maria Schrader

Stars: Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Jennifer Ehle, Samantha Morton, Angela Yeoh, Anastasia Barzee, Sean Cullen, Peter Friedman, Zach Grenier, Mike Houston, Ashley Judd.

she said

In 2017 two investigative reporters for the New York Times wrote an article on sexual harassment in the workplace by men in positions of power. This led eager reporter Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and veteran journalist Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) to investigate rumours of the systemic sexual harassment and rape of female staff and actors by Harvey Weinstein the powerful head of Miramax Studios, exposing one of the biggest scandals to hit Hollywood in years. Weinstein was a serial sexual predator and many of his victims had been forced to sign non-disclosure agreements that prevented them from revealing details of what had happened. Actress Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd (who briefly appears as herself in a nicely ironic piece of stunt casting) were amongst the first to raise serious allegations, although Judd also said that her career suffered in the aftermath of her comments.  

The two journalists faced an almost insurmountable task though as they found that most of the women were afraid to speak out for fear of the effect it would have on their careers and lives. They also faced intimidation from Weinstein’s lawyers and enablers. Amongst those who eventually found the courage to speak out were Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle), who landed a job as an assistant working on a Miramax film being shot in Ireland before being sexually assaulted, and Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton), an office intern in Miramax’s London office who became aware of Weinstein’s abuse and mistreatment of women. As a result of the investigation Weinstein was charged with several counts of sexual assault and has been sentenced to 23 years in prison. 

Kantor and Twohey were supported in their efforts by senior editor Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson) and no-nonsense chief editor Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher) as they pursued leads and interviewed victims during their months long investigation. Much of the high-level editorial discussions themselves were filmed within the actual offices of the New York Times; this is the first film to be granted such access.  

The film cleverly opens in 2016. New York Times journalist Megan Twohey had just written an article critical of Donald Trump for his treatment of women and for that infamous sexist quote, only to see him elected as President of the US. This opening perfectly illustrates how men in positions of power have been getting away with abuse for far too long and have not been brought to account for their actions. 

She Said has been written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Disobedience, etc) and is based on She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, the non-fiction bestseller written by Kantor and Twohey, and the articles they wrote for the New York Times. Lenkiewicz has taken some liberties for dramatic effect. And the film is not afraid to name names throughout the course of the film. 

The director is German born filmmaker Maria Schrader (I’m Your Man, etc), who avoids hysteria and grand cinematic confrontations and never allows the material to become melodramatic. She gives the material an almost documentary like feel as she slowly builds up the tension. This is a slow, meticulously crafted and deliberately paced movie. Schrader deliberately chooses not to show the assaults here; rather she uses real voice recordings to lend an authenticity to the material, and the film also draws upon actual transcripts of interviews. Schrader and cinematographer Natasha Braier (The Neon Demon, etc) also use the filmic device of showing empty hotel rooms and corridors accompanied by disembodied voice over accounts from the women who suffered at Weinstein’s hands. 

Schrader draws strong performances from both Kazan and the always excellent Mulligan as the diligent and dogged reporters, and the two share a great rapport and chemistry. They also effectively convey the mental strain of juggling their home lives with the demands of pursuing this investigation. Clarkson and Braugher bring intelligence to their roles. Ehle and Morton provide some of the more emotional moments as their characters wrestle with their consciences and their initial reluctance to speak out. In particular Laura has also just been diagnosed with breast cancer and has to undergo surgery. Mike Houston plays Weinstein, but we only catch glimpses of him, but he effectively conveys his menacing attitude. And Schrader includes real-life recordings of Weinstein which are chilling as he bullies and threatens the reporters in efforts to kill the story. 

With its exacting and forensic detailed depiction of the painstaking nature of investigative journalism, this is an All The President’s Men for the #MeToo generation. It also has similarities to The Post and 2016’s Oscar winning Spotlight as it spends plenty of time looking at the decisions made by the editorial staff to advance the story and nail down the evidence, the quotes from sources and to get key witnesses to talk on the record. And with its topical theme of exposing misogyny and sexual harassment in a toxic workplace, She Said also shares some similarities with the recent Bombshell, in which three female journalists at FOX news brought about the downfall of Roger Ailes, the powerful head of the network who was accused of sexual misconduct. 

★★★☆

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