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Film review: She Said

She Said captures the tension and drama surrounding the race to break the story that would bring down film titan Harvey Weinstein and launch the #MeToo movement.

Nov 17, 2022, updated Nov 17, 2022
Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) in 'She Said'. Photo: Universal Pictures

Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) in 'She Said'. Photo: Universal Pictures

This new biographical drama has echoes of Spotlight (2015), which followed an investigative team on the trail of widespread and institutionally condoned sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Boston, and won an Oscar for Best Motion Picture.

Like Spotlight, the facts need no adornment because the unfolding drama is so persuasive and the disclosures so overdue. The setting is The New York Times in 2016, where two journalists, Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan), start digging into rumours about the behaviour in Hollywood of film titan Harvey Weinstein.

Weinstein’s casting couch was an open secret, joked about in an Oscars speech, yet no one called him to account. What would it take to bring him down, or at least make him stop?

There is a cautionary note at the outset, when Twohey breaks what should be a major story about a potential US president who two women said had engaged in unwanted sexual conduct towards them. There was a flurry of interest, no consequences, and Donald Trump was elected.

What if the same happened here? If they established gross misconduct by Weinstein and nothing changed?

Knowing the outcome gives the journalists’ often weary research an edge, as does the panic in Weinstein’s voice when he phones in on a conference call and demands to know who they’ve been talking to. “Was it Gwyneth?” he shrieks into the phone.

Gwyneth Paltrow, who had a brush with Weinstein in the 1990s, is  one of the big names that come up, and her boyfriend back then, Brad Pitt, is an executive producer. Actor Ashley Judd, who appears as herself in the film, had not signed a non-disclosure agreement but her career suffered; she talked to the reporters but would not go on the record. Other women make clear that something bad had happened but their non-disclosure agreements were so watertight they didn’t even have copies.

Twohey and Kantor had children and supportive husbands, and their personal circumstances are a lifeline through what amounts to endless phone calls, emails and unannounced door-knocks, trying to get to the women caught in Weinsten’s web. They were being followed and watched, with Weinstein’s people closing down sources along the way, and they needed hard evidence or they would be sued. They were also in a race to publish against The New Yorker, where Ronan Farrow was on the same trail.

A lot of the action happens in the airy newspaper office but a nod of praise goes to the look of the film, directed by Maria Schrader (I’m Your Man), particularly the clandestine meetings in a dimly-lit restaurant between Kantor and a Weinstein source which have the colour and drama of an Edward Hopper painting.

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The moment when Ashley Judd goes for a long run in the woods, then phones Kantor and says that as a woman and a Christian she will go on the record, delivers pure exhilaration. Her courage opened the door and the story could go to print.

It was the birth of the #MeToo movement, which demanded sexual assaults be treated as serious and unacceptable.

Inherent in the story is the long-term damage done to women who, young and optimistic, went up to Weinstein’s room for a business meeting. Hoping for the best, they encountered the worst and it changed their lives.

She Said is in cinemas from today.

Topics: Film reviews
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