Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) are two reporters for the New York Times. When tasked with investigating the open secret of Harvey Weinstein's long history of sexual assaults and misconduct, they meet repeated roadblocks, both from Weinstein's machinations and from the silence of women he abused...
The journalism movie is enjoying a comeback of sorts. 'Spotlight' delved into the historical abuse of the Catholic Church in Boston, carefully layering decades upon decades of silence and complicity with rich character studies of those impacted by it. Spielberg's 'The Post' was a page-turning rip through some of the genre's greatest hits, while 'The Report' - technically not a journalism movie, but it still followed much of the same tropes - was a cold, unflinching examination of state violence and state secrets. 'She Said' comes to the screen with the events depicted in recent memory. Weinstein was sentenced just two years ago, and he even tried to claim that the movie would prejudice a jury against him. It also comes with the knowledge that his downfall and the punishment meted out to him were a rarity.
This is something 'She Said' tackles from the outset, and none more perfect to highlight this than Donald Trump. It opens with Carey Mulligan's character on the phone with a pitch-perfect Trump impersonation, trying to gather a quote from him as he calls her a usual tirade of insults and abruptly hangs up. She files the story, which details accusations of Trump's assaults on women, and nothing happens. In fact, she's sent death threats, human faeces in the post, and is generally derided for doing her job and speaking the truth. Though we know that justice is eventually done against Weinstein, it's important to remember that the odds were - at the time - against it.
Maria Schrader's direction is clear and lucid. The offices where Kantor and Twohey work are bright and airy, yet when 'She Said' cuts to recollections pulled from Weinstein's victims, they're set in shady hotel rooms and dimly-lit corridors. Smartly, 'She Said' avoids showing the assault and instead deals with the aftermath. The terror and the horror are enough to make it clear. Yet, it's the older versions of the victims, the matter-of-fact narration they walk through, that really gets at it. Ashley Judd appears, playing herself, recounting her story in full detail. Samantha Morton is electric as Zelda Perkins, just nailing the audience in place with a single scene. As for Mulligan and Kazan, they're both given tough gigs - they've got to shepherd the story, but also place their own mark upon it. There's a subplot around Mulligan's character suffering through post-partum depression in comparison with Kazan's earth mother ease.
'She Said' does lack a certain amount of flair and panache, instead opting for an efficient and carefully constructed reenactment. There is no dazzling moment or climactic meeting with Weinstein, not really. Instead, 'She Said' does what the best journalism movies do - they get the facts right, and they tell it as closely as they can to how it happened. Considering how frustratingly difficult it is to prosecute rape charges in any jurisdiction, be it here in Ireland or in the US, cinematic embellishments would be a disservice. 'She Said' understands this wholly, but you still get the sense that rigid integrity holds it back when artfulness might have helped.
Still, 'She Said' makes no excuses. As much as it's a reenactment, it drags its subject into the cold light of day for all to see. Whether we choose to look is on us.