The folk behind this taut, forensic drama began with quite a few challenges. Most people know by now how Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s investigations of Harvey Weinstein for the New York Times worked out. And, unlike the scandals covered in films such as All the President’s Men and Spotlight – whose shadows are never quite escaped here – this was not a conspiracy detected at the bottom and traced slowly upwards to the hierarchy. Right from the beginning we know that Weinstein, one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, is implicated in many cases of sexual impropriety.
It was therefore not an easy job to inject tension and drama. Working from the journalists’ eponymous book, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, cowriter of Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida, has managed that task admirably in a screenplay that reminds us how hard it is to construct a solid news story in the face of resistance from powerful men with fat wallets. It is all about getting survivors on the record. The picture works towards that goal and delivers convincing exaltation when the attributed words land on the page.
Maria Schrader’s film puts distance between itself and those earlier newspaper movies by leaning into the reporters’ femininity. Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan, respectively playing Twohey and Kantor, are not seen puffing cigs in lifts like Dustin Hoffman in All the President’s Men. Both have issues with postpartum depression. In one charming moment – inconceivable with male characters – they consider changing clothes as they have turned up for interviews in similar dresses.
There is an important wider issue here. It should be obvious to even the most cloth-eared observer that the two writers are – even if this is not the primary aim – helping to make workplaces safer for their entire gender. The damage that men such as Weinstein inflict comes out in a series of tense interviews. Jennifer Ehle is moving as the Irish survivor Laura Madden. Samantha Morton gives a bravura turn as Zelda Perkins, Weinstein’s former assistant. Ambra Battilana Gutierrez’s tape of an encounter with the producer plays out eerily as the camera prowls hotel corridors.
Schrader skilfully brings these accounts together into a dissonant whole that leads inexorably towards catharsis. There is little experiment here. Natasha Braier laps up the yawning spaces of Renzo Piano’s New York Times building. Nicholas Britell’s score treads gently. But this remains an exciting and often powerful piece of mainstream film-making that allows its heroes to emerge as normal people who make everyday mistakes. Highly recommended.
She Said is released on Friday, November 25th