The profession of journalism requires patience, steadfastness, sharp attention to detail, and a tedious yet rigorous approach. Forget Clark Kent changing in phone booths or Sigourney Weaver running with a microphone in Eyewitness, as the real deal, the dull yet methodical process, has been captured to perfection in such films as All The President’s Men and Spotlight. Enter She Said into that same canon, an imperfect yet emotionally connected look at two of the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalists who in 2017 helped take down convicted rapist and former Hollywood titan, Harvey Weinstein. The story helped to ignite the paradigm shifting #MeToo movement, founded in 2006 by survivor and activist Tarana Burke.
Although most people know the broad strokes of this still ongoing saga, She Said, directed by Maria Schrader (Unorthodox) and written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Ida) brings a uniquely female perspective to a film about the very real fears women have when speaking about sexual assault. With our guides through the story, Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan), the two reporters who investigated the allegations against Weinstein, we not only experience the painstaking process, but we also see the toll it takes on their personal lives.
Their attempts prove futile at first, as nobody seems willing to go on record against the powerful producer. Many people signed NDAs or accepted payments for their silence. Some celebrities, including Rose McGowan and Gwyneth Paltrow have their own reasons for hesitating to speak out, creating a quagmire for our protagonists. They reach out to women across the globe hoping to gather enough evidence to publish their story. Their sympathetic yet demanding superiors, played well by Patricia Clarkson and Andre Braugher, insist on more and more proof, knowing that Weinstein and his lawyers will pounce on any weaknesses in their accounting.
Shrader and Lenkiewicz may have an unwieldy, structurally all over the place way of storytelling, but they also have the gift of an artfully artless style, a clinical way of conveying the information at hand, allowing this fantastic ensemble to do most of the work with their expressive eyes. Clearly having studied those aforementioned classics, the filmmakers keep the melodrama at bay, causing the events to quietly build until you just can’t stomach it anymore. It doesn’t so much tell us how to feel, but instead lets us find those moments for ourselves. Standouts in the telling include great appearances by Samantha Morton, Jennifer Ehle, Angela Yeoh, and Ashley Judd, playing herself. Her inclusion, along with recordings of Weinstein, lends a documentary feel to the movie, adding to its accumulative strength.
While we get a little background on our reporters, more than we ever got with Woodward and Bernstein in the Watergate era film, the filmmakers wisely stay focused on their work. It’s a feminist statement in and of itself to eschew histrionics in favor of two women who keep their heads down and tirelessly get the job done. Having said that, Kazan brings an enormous amount of empathy in the way she listens to the many accounts of abuse, while Mulligan, in one great scene, takes her understandable rage out on a male bar patron who crassly interrupts a conversation she’s having with her partner. This deftly illustrates the seemingly endless misogyny women must confront daily from poorly socialized men, even when finding power in confronting Weinstein, one of the worst examples of such.
This film features no suspenseful chase sequences, no Deep Throats in dimly lit parking structures, yet it entertains by watching people agonizingly get things right. I especially loved the final scene, as banal as can be, yet it achieves something miraculous and memorable with an action most of us do every single day. Sometimes a movie achieves greatness not through its perfect screenplay or whiplash direction, but by simply making us feel something. I have not been able to shake this terrific film.
By Glenn Gaylord, Senior Film Critic
She Said opens in US theaters on November 18th, 2022.