By Greg Carlson
Few reviews of Maria Schrader’s sturdy “She Said” go without mentioning “All the President's Men” and “Spotlight.” The new film, in line to pick up some award season recognition on the basis of its subject matter alone, follows the work of Pulitzer-winning New York Times reporters Megan Twohey (played by Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (played by Zoe Kazan) as they doggedly pursue on-the-record confirmation of the sexual misconduct, sexual assault, and rape accusations against Miramax mogul and Oscar-winning producer Harvey Weinstein. “She Said” is based on the 2019 Kantor and Twohey book of the same name – which emerged from the Times story first published in 2017.
Schrader is steady at the helm, navigating all manner of curious obstacles that come with dramatizing such a high-profile chapter in recent Hollywood. Scenes are shot at the newspaper’s iconic Midtown Manhattan location, Ashley Judd plays herself, and a number of other well-known celebrities factor in the narrative. The damning, horrifying, undercover audio of Weinstein made by Ambra Battilana Gutierrez while working with the NYPD in 2015 is included, extending its status as a smoking gun in the saga. Gutierrez just testified on November 8, less than two weeks before the premiere of “She Said,” during Weinstein’s current rape trial in Los Angeles.
Screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz and director Schrader make the right decision to carefully limit the ways in which Weinstein physically inhabits the movie. With the exception of the authentic sting recording, Weinstein is played by actor Mike Houston. But the filmmakers refrain from allowing a fully-formed performance of the figure to occupy center stage as the ranting bully previously established in Weinstein profiles. Instead, the disembodied voice heard in a small number of phone calls focuses on the producer’s paranoia, manifested in a strange obsession with Gwyneth Paltrow. Instead of giving Weinstein oxygen, the story is methodical and procedural. Can Twohey and Kantor convince women previously victimized by the serial predator to talk?
Condensing, combining, and streamlining are expected elements of movie storytelling, but “She Said” works toward a composite that validates as many facts and details as possible within the limitations of the feature film format. The depiction of the personal, nonwork experiences of Kantor and Twohey revolves around the ongoing challenges of motherhood and work/life balance. “She Said” acknowledges the toll of the job. In one scene, Twohey tees off on a rude and aggressive creep who doesn’t want to be dismissed. In another, a threatening, anonymous phone call unnerves and unsettles.
In 1982, Carol Gilligan wrote, “As we have listened for centuries to the voices of men and the theories of development that their experience informs, so we have come more recently to notice not only the silence of women but the difficulty in hearing what they say when they speak.” Gilligan’s words are an apt reminder to those who have criticized “She Said” for not fully conforming to the rhetorical strategies embodied by so many cinematic “true life” accounts of journalists at work. The way in which the film presents the testimony of Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle), Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton), Rowena Chiu (Angela Yeoh), and others affirms the value of Schrader’s strategy: listen and then listen some more.
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