“I swear on my children.” It was a favorite line of disgraced, BS-convicted movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, uttered with sociopathic insincerity before assaulting dozens of women, from Hollywood stars to terrified underlings of indie giant Miramax. . This went unchallenged for three decades. Why? Because he was Harvey Weinstein, arguably the most powerful man in the entertainment industry, winner of six Best Picture Oscars. What Harvey wanted, Harvey got – until two dogged New York Times investigative reporters became his worst nightmare.
It was poetic justice that this Goliath was killed, not by David, but by two unassuming women, balancing family and career, while relentlessly searching for victims willing to record disturbing stories of how Weinstein lured his prey in hotel rooms, before threatening to end their careers if they did not submit to his lustful demands. It all ended in October 2017, when Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor proved the pen is mightier than the pervert, with a Pulitzer-winning expose that later evolved into a book and now a movie, aptly titled “She Said”.
Directed by Maria Schrader (“I’m Your Man”), the film sticks faithfully to the blueprint hatched by best picture winners “All the President’s Men” and Boston set, “Spotlight.” It’s both the image’s strength and its greatest weakness, triggering an unwavering sense of being there, does that, as Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Kantor (Zoe Kazan) work on the phones, hammer the sidewalk and rummage through reams of documents hoping against hope to unearth the one nugget that will bring down the giant.
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It’s gripping at times, especially when listening to Ashley Judd (as herself), Rose McGowan (voice-only) and ex-Miramax employee Laura Madden (a moving Jennifer Ehle) recount the horrors of being the Weinstein’s new “pet,” forced into submission or face blacklisting.
Whether you’re a studio head or a U.S. president, chances are you’ll win the “he said, she said” battle. It is the power of being in power. Schrader and writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz, working from Twohey and Kantor’s long-running bestseller, “She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story that Helped Ignite a Movement,” repeatedly hammer home this reality. Excessively, in fact. They also get too bogged down in an alien attempt to delve into Twohey and Kantor’s family life, and their struggle to juggle career and raising children. It’s as if the couple were beatified for tasks that millions of women take on every day. This is useless.
Worse still, it diverts attention from victims to journalists. They are not the story; they are the means of exposing and repairing a wrong. It’s their job, pure and simple. “Spotlight” and “All the President’s Men” understood that, and that’s what made both movies so impactful. By comparison, “She Said” feels preachy, even sickening at times. Twohey and Kantor would be the first to tell you that their lives are no more intimidating than any of their Times colleagues. It’s not even their idea to include the domestic element; it is an original idea of producers wishing to attract female ticket buyers.
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It’s the victims, idiot! They are the story, and they are the ones who should be front and center in our minds as we step out of the theatre. Ultimately, this is how “She Said” robs you of a better understanding of what it was like to be victimized by a man who wielded his power and influence over 82 women (which we know) via intimidation and non-disclosure agreements. DID journalists face threats and surveillance, but true bravery is demonstrated by the handful of women willing to go public with their private trauma, under pressure to be pursued, shunned and humiliated.
Yet Mulligan and Kazan triumph with remarkable, finely nuanced performances that perfectly capture the lives – I use that term loosely – of journalists determined to seek the truth at a time when my craft is being unfairly labeled “fake news”. There’s nothing wrong with the hard work and attention to detail Twohey and Kantor employ. And actresses nail that aspect of their characters. These are the scenes of them at home with their husbands and children feeling dishonest. Removing such trivia would not only have made “She Said” more relevant, but far shorter than its bloated 135 minutes.
Less emphasis on the home front would also facilitate the much-needed fulfillment of Twohey and Kantor’s superiors: deputy editor Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson) and Times editor Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher). Not to mention the key victims and witnesses, all of whom are overlooked. That’s not to say “She Said” isn’t worth your time and attention. It may lack the plot of ‘All the President’s Men’ and the humanity of ‘Spotlight,’ but it serves a historical purpose by pinpointing the exact moment when Matt Lauer, Bill O’Reilly, Charlie Rose and Roger Ailes are come to pay the price for the crimes made possible by companies more concerned with the bottom line than crossing it.
Note : R for language, descriptions of sexual assault
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Ashley Judd and Samantha Morton
Director: Maria Schrader
Writers: Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Duration: 135 minutes
Where: In theaters
To note: B-