“She Said” – ★ ★ ★ ★
Maria Schrader’s “She Said” belongs among the top three fact-based journalism movies showcasing investigative reporters, but with a significant difference in tone and nuance.
“All the President’s Men,” directed by Alan J. Pakula, works as a clinical, yet fascinating journalistic police procedural with two male protagonists investigating political corruption.
“Spotlight,” directed by Tom McCarthy, improves on the dramatic conflict with a mix of male and female Boston Globe reporters who have actual skin in the game — they live and work with the people directly affected by their reports of covered-up corruption in the Catholic Church.
“She Said” presents a more wholistic approach to the lead reporters. We glimpse their daily lives, their experiences as responsible mothers, practical spouses, hardworking professionals. But most important is the heightened degree of empathy they bring to their jobs, a crucial tool in their fight against the fear and shame that oppress the women victimized by a culture of quietly sanctioned sexual harassment, abuse and assault.
The difference between these three films?
New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan), left, and Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) step aside as editor Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher) talks to an enraged Harvey Weinstein with editor Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson) witnessing it in “She Said.” – Courtesy of Universal Pictures by signing up you agree to our terms of service
A woman directed “She Said” with two women in the lead roles. Another woman (Rebecca Lenkiewicz) wrote the movie, based on the book, written by two women whom the book is about.
“She Said” possesses, for lack of a better description, a distinctive feminine voice, a vibe that sets it apart in tiny but remarkable ways.
It does not end with the sort of flamboyantly satisfying Hollywood send-off we might expect.
But the road getting there gives us what feels like blistering revelations, and ratchets up slow tension culminating in a dramatic climax during which a frightened victim utters a single sentence: “Yes, I will go on the record” and by doing so, tilts the world.
“She Said” follows the two New York Times reporters who track down lead after lead after lead to collect and verify information resulting in the Harvey Weinstein scandal, which led to the creation of the #MeToo movement.
The story begins in 2016 with Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) attempting to get women to go on the record recounting how presidential candidate Donald Trump sexually harassed them.
Meanwhile, Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) has begun to collect reports about Weinstein’s spree of sexual harassment (and much worse) against vulnerable and defenseless actresses and Miramax office workers.
New York Times reporters Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan), left, and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) compare notes about harassment charges against Harvey Weinstein in “She Said.” – Courtesy of Universal Pictures
It takes a lot of persuasion for actress Rose McGowan to become the first accuser to go public. She previously tipped the Times to Weinstein’s savage campaigns against uncooperative women. The newspaper ignored her. (The Boston Globe also disregarded an early whistle-blower in “Spotlight.”)
Slowly, Kantor and Twohey compile evidence of systemic, shocking abuse from Weinstein (whose face is never seen, but we hear his actual words recorded by Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez at the Peninsula Hotel, where he attempted to force her into sexual compliance. No screenwriter could possibly create creepier dialogue.)
Kantor and Twohey run up against a tougher obstacle than winning trust. Most of Weinstein’s victims had little choice but to sign nondisclosure agreements, documents that legally rob women of their voices. Weinstein could sue them if they talked.
Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan), right, was working on persuading women to go on the record recounting how presidential candidate Donald Trump sexually harassed them when she joins fellow New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) to investigate Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment spree in “She Said.” – Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Every part of the system seems to be rigged in favor of an egomaniacal bully who clearly sees himself as above the law and views women as personal property.
How do two reporters, even from The New York Times, navigate through the legal, emotional, cultural and financial minefields set up to protect a predatory status quo?
From a journalistic viewpoint, “She Said” understands how a real story like this depends on the right people coming together at the right moment with a common commitment to integrity and professional standards.
Patricia Clarkson brings assured intelligence to her unflappable Times investigations editor Rebecca Corbett, who can barely hide her excitement of the chase under a placid veneer.
Andre Braugher plays seasoned editor Dean Baquet, who knows exactly how to deal with short-fused time bombs like Weinstein.
The filmmakers stumble only twice when they show flashbacks illustrating victims’ stories to the reporters. This cheap and unnecessary device does nothing but undermine some compelling and heartfelt testimonies delivered by the actors.
Does no one remember Robert Shaw’s spellbinding, nonflashback Indianapolis speech from “Jaws”?