Synopsis – New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor break one of the most important stories in a generation — a story that helped launch the #MeToo movement and shattered decades of silence around the subject of sexual assault in Hollywood.
My Take – Five years ago, The New York Times broke a story that changed the world. Uncovering decades of sexual harassment and assaults in Hollywood, reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey boldly took on an establishment that had too long been allowed to systematically protect abusers.
The duo’s reporting played a major part in leading powerhouse producer Harvey Weinstein‘s eventual conviction and launched the #MeToo movement that had many women come out with their own stories about abuse in Hollywood, not limited to the cinema mogul, and exposed the clandestine culture of sexual abuse throughout the entertainment industry and beyond.
For their latest, director Maria Schrader (I’m Your Man) and writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Colette) adapt Kantor and Twohey’s best-selling 2019 non-fiction book about their hard-fought investigation to provide an empathetic and effective account of the making of the New York Times article. An adaption that perfectly captures the ferociousness, passion, drive, hard work and relentless determination that drove both of these trailblazing women to ignite a spark that made the world an infinitely better place.
Sprung in the tradition of dramas like All the President’s Men (1976), Spotlight (2015), and The Post (2017), the film acts as a tribute to the art and importance of investigative journalism, as well as a moving portrait of the two women whose personal lives couldn’t be put on hold even as they navigated a labyrinth of NDAs, legal double binds, and frightened witnesses to bring out the truth.
Sure, it never matches the excellence of those above mentioned peculiar works, but it certainly offers a hard-hitting, emotional and difficult probe into a world where too many people kept horrifying actions quiet for too long, while a variety of women’s lives and careers where either destroyed or profoundly affected.
Yes, it doesn’t have any elaborate set pieces, but the dialogues and performances, particularly of Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan, are so good that you will be engaged throughout. This one is a must watch for fans of intense journalistic dramas.
Set in 2017, the story follows Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan), a New York Times reporter who receives a tip that actress Rose McGowan (played in voice form only here by Keilly McQuail) had been sexually assaulted by producer Harvey Weinstein. Though McGowan initially declines to comment on the matter, she later calls Jodi with the story of a shocking encounter with the powerful producer when she was just 23 and starting out in Hollywood.
Believing that there is a much bigger story to tell, Jodi begins contacting sources and actresses Ashley Judd (playing herself) and Gwyneth Paltrow, who describe their own meetings with him, and ends up catching a pattern of horrific abuse dating back to the 1990s, when Weinstein would use film festivals as his predatory stomping grounds.
However, they all refuse to be named in the article. Frustrated at the lack of progress made in the story due to the wall of silence from former employees, Kantor ends up recruiting Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) to help with the piece. The same Twohey who during the 2016 election year had introduced on the trail of accusations against Donald Trump. But once Trump won the election, the story of his alleged misconduct was set aside.
Yet, with dogged determination, the two reporters, aided by senior journalist Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson), dig away at the cone of silence, speaking to dozens of former employees of Weinstein’s in order to understand the degree and perpetuation of abuse that was protected by lawyers and PR companies and peers alike.
Clearly, the film’s intention is to spotlight Twohey and Kantor‘s relentless dedication to exposing the truth about systemic abuse in Hollywood, but it also plays like a good old-fashioned journalism film. And while director Maria Schrader may not draw upon anything overly inventive here, and the film is admittedly a little long, but it nevertheless chronicles the reporting process clearly, concisely and unburdened by technical jargon or gaps in explaining the legal and journalistic consequences involved.
Though the procedural drama is both impactful and shocking in its subject matter, screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz keeps things rolling along, never wallowing too much in any one victim’s suffering or any hiccup in the editorial process.
Her script is clear on emphasizing that Weinstein himself was not the sole perpetrator of these events, but that he was aided and abetted by a system that allowed him to continue to get away with it, with NDAs and settlements and other payouts. In fact, much of the screen time involves the reporters trying to talk to people who aren’t legally allowed to talk, and to verify just how many instances of settlements occurred involving Weinstein.
But most importantly, the film is simply a story of journalists at work. Here, the film avoids the trappings of becoming a forced feminism tale, the kind of female-led films that forcefully turn all interesting women into strong female characters archetypes. In the sense, though Kantor and Twohey are two exceptional journalists, they are also shown as two burnt-out mothers. The film simply shows how much of this work happens while pushing a stroller, attempting to manage bedtime or battling postpartum depression; in one ruefully funny moment, Kantor scribbles a Netflix password out for her older daughter to get her out of the room for a crucial phone call.
Director Schrader also shows them hustling through crosswalks, striding across parking lots, casting sidelong glances at shady-looking vehicles that are almost certainly following them. As one would expect, the film does contain uncomfortable scenes as you’d imagine, not visually graphic but just from hearing the stories; and you still get the feeling that details and depth was still left out of them. And though Weinstein is the subject here, he’s more a shadowy presence, heard over phones and glimpsed from behind when arriving at the Times office with his legal team to hammer out a statement to add to the story shortly before it’s published.
Performance wise, both Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan dominate the cast. Their approach constantly suggests emotional involvement, empathy for the victims combined with the efforts to induce in them the courage to break the wall of silence, anger at the horrors they reveal in balance with the professionalism required by the journalist’s job. They really feel like a team who always have each other’s back.
There are three other fabulous turns. Ashley Judd appears as her spectacular self, the first of Weinstein’s victims to go on the record for the article, while Jennifer Ehle and Samantha Morton are outstanding. Patricia Clarkson, for her part, makes the smaller role of Corbett into a mentor and colleague to be admired. In other roles, Andre Braugher, Adam Shapiro and Tom Pelphery provide excellent support. On the whole, ‘She Said’ is a thrilling journalism drama that is both incredibly compelling and emotionally impactful.
Directed – Maria Schrader
Rated – R
Run Time – 129 minutes