She Said

M, 129 minutes

5 Stars

Review by © Jane Freebury

Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan in She Said.  Image courtesy Universal International Pictures

 

It’s not that long ago now, only five years. Yet it still feels like things have turned a corner since news was published in New York of the mounting case against film industry mogul, producer Harvey Weinstein. The success of his company Miramax was an industry phenomenon so his influence and his backing were to die for, but his predatory behaviour was an open secret.

This engrossing drama, directed by Maria Schrader, details the fascinating lengths that were necessary to dislodge Weinstein from the empire he had built. A system in which he felt entitled to take whatever he fancied, but was able to wield money and influence to stop his victims from speaking up. The system was such that his ouster and fall from grace were only possible because of the skill, energy and dedication of the investigative journalists who were on to the story, and the bravery of his victims.

The title says it all

A riposte to the default position so often taken when there’s a complaint against someone for sexual harassment or abuse. Oh, it can only ultimately boil down to what ‘he said, she said’, as though the power relations involved have nothing to do with it. Well no, what women say matters.

She Said opens in New York City just prior to Donald Trump entering the White House. Allegations about the presidential candidate’s sexual predation were circulating in the media, when two young New York Times journalists, Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) started their investigation into Harvey Weinstein.

The screenplay by Rebecca Lenkiewicz is based on the book that the NYT journalists wrote about the experience of building the story. For their reporting, they shared the Pulitzer Prize with Ronan Farrow at The New Yorker.

The investigation into Weinstein starts as a trickle and becomes a torrent as Twohey and Kantor gather the detail and the corroboration necessary for publication, with support from colleagues including executive editor Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher) and deputy editor Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson). But many victims are very reluctant to go public, and then there were those non-disclosure agreements. The conditions in the NDAs that women had to sign so they could work for HW are astonishing.

It was a good decision to incorporate the tapestry of life with these momentous events. The impact on the victims’ and their families is explored as the narrative incorporates the private lives in the background of public events. Twohey and Kantor, young mothers with partners, try to balance work with homelife in the big city. Takeaway meals feature late into the evening.

With an army of enablers, from CFOs who paid victims off  to colleagues who looked the other way, he was safe for decades

Of course, the investigation into Weinstein also speaks to how he had managed to cover up, operating within a system that he built. With an army of enablers, from chief financial officers who paid victims off with compensation to the colleagues who would look the other way when a victim was targeted, he was safe for decades. A fine film of a few years back, The Assistant, based on the Weinstein story, showed how such an enabling system could operate.

Director Schrader was determined to avoid including scenes of rape or other abuse in She Said. It is left instead to our imagination, as the camera pans around hotel rooms strewn with underwear, or captures victims in a state of emotional distress. One particularly effective sequence plays audio of HW using threats and coercion to force his victim to join him in his hotel room, over vision from a camera drifting up and down empty hotel corridors.

The New York Times opened its offices for She Said. It was a first. Ashley Judd, the first actress to go public with her claims of abuse, plays herself here, while Jennifer Ehle plays Laura Madden, Kelly McQuail plays Rose McGowan, and Samantha Morton gives a very moving performance as Zelda Perkins, one of HW’s former assistants. It is a terrific ensemble performance piece, all round.

It would be great to think that the days of NDAs and sexual predators in charge in the workplace, are numbered. This very impressive film, handling an immense amount of material with flair, makes the case. With its persuasive and impassioned performances, it is a testament to how bad things can get if such people remain unchecked. See it.

First published in the Canberra Times on 18 November 2022.  Jane’s reviews are also published at Rotten Tomatoes