Throughout history, investigative journalism has been at the center of the biggest stories to bring down those men thought to be untouchable. In the case of Maria Schrader’s She Said are Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey, and Rebecca Corbett’s investigative expose of Harvey Weinstein’s pattern of abuse and sexual misconduct against women. Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, and Patricia Clarkson play the New York Times reporters, respectively.
The level of detail Schrader achieved in the investigative aspect of She Said is to be commended. This facet of Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s script, based on The New York Times investigation by Kantor and Twohey and their 2019 book of the same name, firmly entrenches itself, matching wits with Spotlight and All The President’s Men. Comparisons are apt to be had. However, Schrader’s film is its own unique beast, for better or worse.
Men in positions of power, such as Weinstein and former President Trump, hold sway over the women in their circle primarily because of vulnerability. They use their power and money to silence those they abuse, making tracing the trail of their exploits challenging. Mulligan and Kazan, especially, are determined to get their literal man. Leading to the Me Too movement, the sickening and frightening thoughts that this could have happened, let alone gone undetected, along with the network of people willing to protect these secrets, is unfathomable.
Yet, it happened.
If that statement appears cavalier and uncaring, it is not intended as much as how the story portrays these aspects. Lenkiewicz’s script is forthright in its convictions, and Schrader’s intent is on the screen. However, pinning Weinstein (played by Mike Houston), who has already been sentenced to 23 years in prison and is still on trial for his misdeeds, feels more like a social media finger-pointing exercise than an actual expose outlining the crimes. She Said aims to get their man through whatever means possible, regardless of the outcome and with a lack of urgency. Few scenes feature Weinstein because of the lack of response or the stonewalling his team did to control the outcome. Kantor and Twohey stick to their guns in the face of mounting pressure to get the story corroborated by victims willing to go on the record. Those who protected Weinstein aren’t necessarily shamed into offering evidence, but the film correctly paints them in a villainous light that they are compelled to do the right thing.
One of the more uniquely dramatic scenes is set in a dimly lit restaurant with Zoe Kazan’s Twohey and Zach Grenier as Weinstein Company’s Irwin Reiter. Twohey makes a convincing argument for why Reiter should give up his secrets. It isn’t Deep Throat-level character development or acting, as far as the script is concerned. Natasha Braier’s (The Rover, The Neon Demon, Honey Boy) camera work conveys the quiet urgency of moving the story forward in an unremarkable drama. The acting and the dramatic camera work are what sell this scene.
Ashley Judd plays herself in the film. You can feel her pain and empathize with what happened to her and her career. Her moments in the story lend the film weight and gravitas and, despite a lack of urgency, are the visceral heart and soul of the film.
Several scenes throughout gave the feeling that they would enter into John Grisham-type dramatic storytelling with nefarious characters lurking in dark corners trying to stop the investigation. Instead, we’re treated to various stonewalling phone calls with Andre Braugher’s Dean Baquet sternly telling Weinstein to respond or else type threats. This storytelling style does not lend itself well to an investigative drama where a more fictional dramatization could have been used.
Editing is She Said’s primary foible. Hansjorg Weibbrich gives the film a European flair focusing on the factual rather than the fictional, and flattens the dramatic curve. What’s left is the acting, and She Said has that in spades. The story focuses on Mulligan and Kazan; they shine here. Clarkson comes to the forefront only in the third act. The actress is featured throughout, though she is relegated to the background. Background research defines this story – getting the background on all affected players on the record: making sure that men’s objectification of women, not just Weinstein’s perpetrations, but seeing the real, raw effects of his preying on the vulnerability of young women, their careers, and the power men have in their positions to destroy others is horrific. The service of The New York Times has been a catalyst for change, not only in the general workplace but especially in Hollywood.
There is a certain irony in the behind-the-scenes look at this film, particularly in the producing team, Plan B Entertainment, and Annapurna Pictures.
She Said is a statement piece akin to these production companies’ mission statements, and Universal is to be commended for putting the film out. Exceptional acting and a strong screenplay ultimately fall prey to the editing. The story has drama, yet it lacks dramatic flair and urgency, giving rise to the level of social media finger-pointing rather than the essential event makers that Spotlight and All The President’s Men achieved in their heydays.
Directed by Maria Schrader
Written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, based on The New York Times investigation by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey and She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
Starring Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Jennifer Elle, Samantha Morton, Ashley Judd
R, 129 mins, Universal Pictures/Annapurna Pictures/Plan B Entertainment