Maria Schrader | 2hr 9min
Five years on from the Harvey Weinstein allegations of October 2017, the story of the convicted rapist’s fall from Hollywood’s highest echelons is ubiquitous. The #MeToo movement that followed proved to be a reckoning on an immense scale as well, holding powerful men accountable for their abuses over several decades. She Said wisely does not dip into the aftermath we are all familiar with – like All the President’s Men, or more recently Spotlight, this biographical piece is about the painstaking research that went into the earth-shattering exposé at its centre, revealing the corruption underlying one of America’s largest institutions. It is a little odd to see this same industry dramatise and profit off its own recent culpabilities, but by putting this retelling in the hands of survivors and advocates, there is a sincerity present which instils it with great emotional depth.
There is barely a scene in She Said which doesn’t feature either Megan Twohey or Jodi Kantor in the midst of conducting investigations, meeting with sources, or having their down time interrupted by ringing phones. It dominates every aspect of their lives to the point that we might almost call it obsession, were it not for Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan’s characterisations of both women as clear-thinking individuals driven by professional, moral, and social objectives. In playing to the compelling bluntness that she previously displayed in Promising Young Woman, Mulligan especially stands out here, bringing gravity to virtually every line delivered in her deep, self-assured tone of voice. This is no experimental exercise in realism like Close-Up or The Rider that saw real people re-enact their own stories, but the casting of Ashley Judd and Gwyneth Paltrow as themselves rounds out Maria Schrader’s historical reconstruction with an additional level of authenticity.
Weinstein may be the main culprit upon which Twohey and Kantor’s investigation centres, but there is an equally insidious force at play here as well in the patriarchal systems that protect those at the top, becoming an elusive antagonist that is virtually impossible for them to nail down. It isn’t just the non-disclosure agreements keeping victims silent, but their resistance to dredging up old traumas and potentially risking further humiliation in the public eye becomes a major obstacle in exposing his crimes.
Given how much of the narrative emphasis here is on She Said’s meetings between journalists and sources, there is a lot left to be desired in Schrader’s work as a visual director. This may be an achievement in screenwriting and acting, but the shot/reverse shot style of conversations makes for some particularly uninspired filmmaking. Fortunately, this is offset by the occasional interlude whisking us away into empty hotels, at one point patiently tracking the camera down luxurious hallways to an archival audio recording of one of Weinstein’s abuses, as if lurking outside the room where it was committed. Later, one woman’s description of her assault becomes the voiceover to a montage cutting around the hotel room where it occurred, with her description of the bath robe, scattered clothing, and running water matching up to the visual details of the scene. It is disappointing to see how little Schrader commits to weaving these devices through the film more consistently, but they still make for powerful cutaways in each moment they appear, seeking to understand deeper, more psychological layers to the perspectives we are presented with.
Where She Said does formally pay off in its structure is through its flashbacks, revealing the younger, innocent faces of the women who are only now telling their stories to anyone outside their closest loved ones. On the eve of the story’s publication, Schrader returns to them once again in a brief montage, reminding us of the lives that were destroyed and now, with all those journalists huddled in front of the computer, are ready to change everything. It is at that threshold where the private becomes public, and where smaller dominoes begin to topple larger ones, affectingly bringing She Said to the end of one story, and to the beginning of countless others.
She Said is currently playing in theatres.