In February of 2020, the unthinkable happened: extraordinarily powerful Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was convicted of sexual assault and rape, resulting in a 23-year prison sentence. The fact that someone in such an important position, who had controlled and influenced the movie business for decades, was actually facing justice for the many crimes he had committed, against a long list of women, was amazing. The investigation ended up being the trigger for a movement where women took to social media to speak out about the abuse they had suffered at the hands of celebrities, politicians and other public figures. It became a kind of turning point in American culture, albeit one that we are definitely still struggling with.
The based-on-real-life drama She Said (122 minutes, minus the end credits) follows the breaking of the Weinstein story from its beginning up to its publication in 2017, through the eyes of two investigative reporters at the New York Times. It is the usual journalistic drama that plays almost like a thriller as they desperately attempt to get in touch with potential sources, confirm facts and get someone to speak on the record. There isn’t much tension here, possibly because the majority of people watching this already know how things turned out. The drama comes from the process and the emotional toll it takes on the reporters.
It appears that the filmmakers had two primary reasons to put this story on-screen. The first seems to be the desire to pay tribute to Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, real-life reporters who put everything they had into bringing Weinstein’s crimes to light. They are played by Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan as hard-working professionals who pride themselves in doing work that matters. They are presented as heroes, not because they put pieces together and find leads, but because they truly listen to the victims and want to do something to help them. There is no sense they are doing this to advance their own careers; it is about doing the right thing and stopping a predator from continuing his abusive behavior.
The second reason seems to be getting the stories of the victims out there again. There are several sequences where a character talks, in great detail, about what Weinstein did to them. Sometimes the movie just watches them, as in an emotional scene where Kantor listens to a former Miramax employee (played briefly, yet very well, by Samantha Morton) describe her experience. Though a lot of viewers likely know at least some of this stuff, hearing it spoken, without melodrama, does have a strong impact.
Directed Maria Schrader does not overwhelm the audience with these stories. She spotlights a few of them, certainly enough to get the point across. She Said is smartly not about Harvey Weinstein (his voice is heard; however, his face is never shown). It is about the women who came together to overcome him. Its heart is absolutely in the right place. It is well-made and well-acted (Kazan, in particular, is surprisingly impressive during scenes where her main job is to listen).
Even with those things, it feels like a missed opportunity. The pacing is perhaps a tad too slow; it doesn’t have a lot of urgency, despite the pressure we are constantly told the characters are under. It all ends up feeling routine. It follows the journalism drama formula very closely, leaving little room for grand statements or bigger meaning beyond “these women did something incredible.” It is a good movie that could have been a lot more fascinating had it done more than merely transfer this story to the screen.
3½ out of 5
Cast: Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor
Carey Mulligan as Megan Twohey
Patricia Clarkson as Rebecca Corbett
Andre Braugher as Dean Baquet
Directed by Maria Schrader
Screenplay by Rebecca Lenkiewicz