Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan lead this powerful newspaper drama, which follows the journalists who broke the Harvey Weinstein story.
November 17, 2022
Questions flow freely in She Said, the powerful and methodical All the President's Men and Spotlight-style newspaper drama that tells the story behind the past decade's biggest entertainment story. On-screen, Zoe Kazan (Clickbait) and Carey Mulligan (The Dig) tend to be doing the asking, playing now Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. They query Harvey Weinstein's actions, including his treatment of women. They gently and respectfully press actors and Miramax employees about their traumatic dealings with the Hollywood honcho, and they politely see if some — if any — will go on the record about their experiences. And, they question Weinstein and others at his studio about accusations that'll lead to this famous headline: "Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades".
As the entire world read at the time, those nine words were published on October 5, 2017, along with the distressing article that detailed some — but definitely not all — of Weinstein's behaviour. Everyone has witnessed the fallout, too, with Kantor and Twohey's story helping spark the #MeToo movement, electrifying the ongoing fight against sexual assault and gender inequality in the entertainment industry, and shining a spotlight on the gross misuses of authority that have long plagued Tinseltown. The piece also brought about Weinstein's swift downfall. As well as being sentenced to 23 years in prison in New York in 2020, he's currently standing trial for further charges in Los Angeles. Watching She Said, however, more questions spring for the audience. Here's the biggest heartbreaker: how easily could Kantor and Twohey's article never have come to fruition at all, leaving Weinstein free to continue his predatory harassment?
In a female-driven movie on- and off-screen — including director Maria Schrader (I'm Your Man), screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Small Axe) and cinematographer Natasha Braier (Honey Boy) — She Said details all the moments where the pivotal piece of reporting could've been forced to take no for an answer, something that Weinstein wasn't known for. At the NYT, assistant managing editor Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson, Sharp Objects) and executive editor Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) are always supportive, starting when Kantor picks up the story, and continuing when she brings in Twohey fresh off an investigative article into Donald Trump's sexual misconduct. But, unsurprisingly, the women made victims by Weinstein are wary. Many also signed non-disclosure agreements. Kantor and Twohey's pitch: by speaking out and ideally going on the record, they can assist in ensuring that what they endured doesn't happen to anyone else.
Knowing the end result, and the whole reason that She Said exists, doesn't dampen the film's potency or tension. Instead, it heightens the appreciation for the bravery of those who spoke out — at first and afterwards — and the care with which Kantor and Twohey handled their task. The two reporters knew that they were asking women to revisit their darkest traumas, make their worst ordeals public and take on a man who'd been untouchable for decades (with the spate of NDAs and settlements with many of his targets to prove it). Even Rose McGowan (voiced by The Plot Against America's Keilly McQuail) is hesitant; she's mentioned but not quoted in the final piece. Persevering to bring Weinstein's crimes to attention, Kantor and Twohey keep digging, and keep trying to persuade their potential interviewees — and She Said doubles as a lesson in compassionately and respectfully doing just that.
Some of the women approached are household names, with Ashley Judd appearing as herself and Gwyneth Paltrow referenced but not seen. Others worked in less visible roles in Weinstein's orbit — and She Said's moments with Samantha Morton (The Serpent Queen), Jennifer Ehle (Saint Maud) and Angela Yeoh (The Batman) as ex-Miramax employees Zelda Perkins, Laura Madden and Rowena Chiu, helping the feature explore why they agreed to talk, are electrifying and heartbreaking at the same time. In a blistering scene set in a London cafe, Morton plays someone toughened by and determined because of her 90s efforts to stand up for a colleague, her anger radiating from the screen. Ehle is the face of sorrowful regret, with the pain she conveys about being accosted as a young woman — a flashback to which opens the movie — just as palpable. And Chiu is devastating as someone who hasn't even told her husband about what happened, such was is misplaced shame and lingering fear.
Great procedurals, of which She Said is one, know the importance of three things: diligently putting pieces together, charting the dedicated efforts making that happen and showing the impact of a job well done. Not all such films get as satisfying an IRL ending — Zodiac is an all-timer and the serial killer it focuses on has never been caught — but conveying why the work matters is one of the genre's key aims. No one needs a movie to stress that fact here, obviously. The results of Kantor and Twohey's efforts have garnered headlines for five years now and will continue to. Still, consider She Said a testament to that hard work, and a film eager to ensure that toiling gets its due. It isn't a self-congratulatory flick, but a solidly compelling, sensitive and astute one. It never even lets Weinstein's face be sighted. And, it tells its tale with naturalistic, lived-in visuals, including in the NYT's offices and cafeteria, always emphasising that its details are real and tangible.
Where 2019's chilling and exceptional The Assistant fictionalised a film production company led by a Weinstein type and the culture of sexual harassment it enabled, She Said always dwells in fact. Both movies are gripping, engaging, moving and essential, however, as well as attentively directed and outstandingly cast. For the second time in the past few years, Mulligan confronts the abhorrent treatment of women by men, and strikes back — and while this feature couldn't be more different tonally from Promising Young Woman, she's a firmly committed presence in both. Quiet strength emanates from Mulligan and Kazan alike, while their characters are doing their jobs and as they're balancing home lives. That juggling act is never the point of She Said, which seamlessly works in the pair's respective children, plus Twohey's pregnancy and post-natal depression. Nonetheless, including it helps reinforce the variety of ways that this is a women-centric story — crucially so — and what that means on an array of levels.