She Said is catnip for movie reviewers such as myself. There is nothing more thrilling than a well-executed journalistic procedural.
Though the #MeToo movement may not have the same intensity as hunting down a murderer, for example, in David Fincher’s Zodiac, Harvey Weinstein musters the same disgust and raw emotions. And we, the audience, cannot resist watching the monster get taken down.
At the film’s center are Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan), both reporters for The New York Times. These two influential women journalists have a rich history of uncovering assaults in various working industries.
The film’s prologue sets the stage by depicting the monstrosities victims go through as each tells their gripping story. To give a glimpse of methods used to keep women silent, the movie kicks off with reporter Twohey’s struggle to get a Donald Trump accuser to come forward. However, the woman is met with threats of legal action and human feces being sent to her through the mail.
Twohey herself is met with threatening phone calls from mysterious men saying they are going to rape and kill her. This is all before we are thrown into the investigation of the world’s most powerful movie producer.
Kantor is the first reporter to hear whispers of an industry producer assaulting women in Hollywood. The most disturbing aspect of Kantor’s investigation is how quickly she pieces together survivors and how the numbers grow. Not to mention, how many professionals knew about such assaults as rape, molestation, fondling, threats, loss of jobs, and blacklisting, and yet stayed quiet for decades. The stories shared by the women are moving and heartbreaking.
Survivors staying quiet
She Said illustrates the struggle to get sexual abuse survivors to come forward. Many of the women approached by Kantor discuss the shame, embarrassment, and inner torment they experienced coupled with the loss of careers. They want to talk yet remain anonymous, fearing the power Weinstein wields. Some have taken settlements, some have executed Nondisclosure Agreements (agreeing not to speak), and others are terrified. This results in Kantor and Twohey teaming together to advocate for women who have been crushed by a system bent on protecting those in power.
The film becomes relentlessly engrossing as both characters become like Holmes and Watson. Kantor is depicted as having strong investigative sensibilities, and Twohey has the same skillset but also possesses a capacity to get survivors to find bravery in coming forward. Between the two, it’s a duo that eventually becomes Harvey Weinsteins’ worst nightmare.
The pacing is extraordinary for being over two hours. It will undoubtedly earn an Oscar nod for editing. The film jogs from moment to moment as the two journalists chase down leads. However, this execution does come with a small setback.
While the movie does an exceptional job showing brief glimpses of Kantor and Twohey’s personal lives, it never allows the moments to breathe. It’s a minor nitpick, but getting a good sense of who these incredible women were outside of the job would have further enriched the film. The investigative scenes needed to pause for character growth as well.
For example, one of Spotlight’s most powerful scenes involved Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal of Michael Rezendes. In one sequence, the investigation narrative pauses to show the impact the Catholic Church scandal story is having on Michael. And when his boss delays the print to pursue more leads, Michael loses his temper about the delay. He wants the Catholic church to pay for their crimes against children. It slows the narrative down but it’s purposeful and makes the narrative richer.
Se7en is another example. The investigation plot is set aside in various scenes to establish the detectives as people. One scene, in particular, is just the detectives having dinner together and sharing a few laughs. It enriches the characters and the story, once the third act rolls around. All this to say, this reviewer wanted to get to know more about the journalists in She Said.
This is easily forgivable because She Said is cramming a lot of horrific details into a 127-minute window. The script by Rebecca Lenkiewicz is more concerned with its message of showing how powerful people can get away with terrible things — and sometimes for decades. As we have seen, this is not a problem exclusively for actresses. Actors such as Brendan Fraser were harassed and blacklisted for years.
Ashley Judd stars in this movie as herself. Judd’s appearance in this film is poetic justice at its finest. She is an actress who was harassed and blacklisted by Harvey Weinstein and is now starring in a movie about the demise of Harvey Weinstein. All things considered, including Harvey’s prison sentence, starring in this movie had to be the emotional cherry on top for her.
She Said is engrossing and powerful
Maria Schrader directed an engrossing and powerful film. It approaches an untasteful subject in an incredibly tasteful way. As we flow from one survivor account to the next, the details are vivid and maddening but never exploitive. And for a movie involving people talking in various locations, it’s magnetic from beginning to end.
Just like Spotlight, it shows the strength of journalism in the face of monsters with power. She Said is not just an important film about listening to survivors of sexual assault, it’s also an outstanding movie.
She Said hits theaters tomorrow.