wed 30/11/2022

She Said review - a necessary newsroom thriller | reviews, news & interviews

She Said review - a necessary newsroom thriller

She Said review - a necessary newsroom thriller

Galvanising account of how reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey toppled Harvey Weinstein

True grit: Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan in 'She Said'Universal Pictures

Five years have elapsed since New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey revealed that dozens of women had accused the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual abuse and harassment over three decades.

Based on Kantor and Twohey’s book about their investigation, which sparked the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, She Said is an urgent if belated film.

In February 2020, former Miramar chief Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years imprisonment, a term that might increase depending on the outcome of the trial currently proceeding in Los Angeles. She Said, which stars Zoe Kazan as Kantor and Carey Mulligan as Twohey, is not therefore released in a void. There’s never a bad moment to hammer home the intolerableness of workplace sex crimes – and German director Maria Schrader’s movie is especially trenchant in its denunciation of the corporate systems in place, via settlements and non-disclosure agreements, that protect powerful men like Weinstein. 

Adapted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Ida, Small Axe) from Kantor and Twohey’s book, the film is front-loaded with horror. Laura Madden (Lora Petticrew), who's in her early twenties, is walking her dog on an Irish shore when she sees a Miramax picture being made. Struck by the glamour, she gets a job with the crew (as a wrangler of extras).

There’s a cut to a stark frontal shot of Madden – whimpering, bedraggled, carrying some of her clothes – as she runs along a Dublin street having been assaulted by Weinstein in his hotel room. Interviewed by Kantor 25 years later, Madden (now played by Jennifer Ehle) crucially agrees in a phone call to testify against him while she's being wheeled into an operating room for reconstructive surgery following breast cancer. (Pictured above: Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan, Andre Braugher, Patricia Clarkson)

She Said is not otherwise as chilling as Kitty Green’s indie The Assistant (2020), which shows how an office worker (Julie Garner) at a Miramax-like company steeped in menace and paranoia was subjected to oppression and coercion, if not herself molested. But unlike Jay Roach’s Bombshell (2019), which depicted the harassment of anchors and other women journalists at Fox News by then-CEO Roger Ailes, She Said does not sensationalise its story.

Schrader and Lenkiewicz opted for a sober newsroom approach, like All the President’s Men (1977) and Spotlight (2015) before it, that focuses on Kantor and Twohey’s teamwork, supported from the first by their bosses (Patricia Clarkson and Andre Braugher). The two working mothers doggedly but empathetically strive to get Madden and fellow Weinstein victims Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton) and Rowena Chiu (Angela Yeoh), who all worked in Miramax's London office, to go on the record.

In a poignant scene that demonstrates the kind of hurdles Kantor and Twohey faced, an unnamed victim (Roxanna Hope Radja), interviewed on her doorstep in Queens, tells Twohey she can’t contribute to the story because her case was “resolved”. She was, in other words, paid off and is too fearful to let Twohey write around her abuse while preserving her anonymity.

Among Weinstein’s celebrity victims, Rose McGowan is voiced in a call to Kantor by actor Keilly McQuaill; Ashley Judd plays herself on a phone screen; and Gwyneth Paltrow invites the reporters to her house but doesn’t appear. All victims are equal under the law, but these stars' personalities and celebrity impart a near-meta quality to the movie that threatens its gravity. (Pictured above: Samantha Morton)

Mulligan and Kazan (who acted together in The Seagull on Broadway in 2008) excel as crusading buddies. Kazan has the slightly bigger role since Kantor’s legwork takes her to California, England, and  Wales to find Chiu, Perkins, and Madden respectively. Though rattled by an encounter in which she unwittingly bears bad tidings, Kantor sticks uncomplainingly to her task. Kazan’s performance is refreshing because movie journalists are habitually attitude-merchants; Mulligan’s fierce Twohey is more old-school in this respect.

Ehle and Samantha Morton, razor-sharp as the eloquent but jittery Perkins, one of few women who stood up to Weinstein before she was persuaded to sign an NDA, give electrifying turns that reenergise She Said when it flags during the second act. As Lanny Davis, one-time special counsel to Bill Clinton who quit Weinstein’s legal team early in October 2017, Peter Friedman (Succession) enjoys himself serving up sophistry to the unfazed Twohey.

Logging a grim history that would have suffered from stylisation, She Said has been unostentatiously directed by Schrader (Unorthodox). The few flourishes are earned. Cinematographer Natasha Braier’s fleet tracking shots serve the Times’s need to publish its story before it’s scooped by The New Yorker – and before Weinstein rapes, gropes, or masturbates before another woman.

His face never shown in the film, the hulking producer (played by Mike Huston) is first seen in longshot through two glass corridor walls when, late on, he and his entourage, which includes his attorney Lisa Bloom and the former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor Linda Fairstein, materialise in the Times office to intimidate the reporters. (Pictured above: Jennifer Ehle, centre)

Only the preamble to the conference is shown. With Weinstein shown from the back, the camera dollies slowly in on Twohey as her eyes rest momentarily on the predator whose accusers numbered 87 by late October 2017. Bordering on bemused, her wry expression – it’s barely an expression at all – suggests that Weinstein’s specific aberration is not reducible to a legal or psychopathological commonplace. Such restraint is typical of Carey Mulligan – who else could have made a non-reaction so damning?

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