I remember the specific kind of shock that I felt when The New York Times piece about Harvey Weinstein made the rounds. I had seen his name attached to so many films I loved and knew that he was one of the most powerful men in Hollywood.
Jennifer Lawrence panicked after she forgot to thank Weinstein in her speech as she collected the Oscar for Best Actress in 2013, saying “that’s the end of my career”. We all assumed it was a joke, but as we later found out, it probably wasn’t.
She Said, Maria Schrader’s thrilling adaptation of the book of the same name, recounts exactly how the movie mogul was brought down. Reporters Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Megan Twoney (Carey Mulligan) spent months talking to actresses, former employees of Miramax and others to uncover not just the systematic abuse, but the systemic hiding of it.
It’s a story we all know. We all know Weinstein, now 70, is serving a 23-year sentence in prison for rape. Yet, She Said is still tense and compelling, even though we know the outcome. The precise direction by Schrader focuses on the mundane work done to achieve something extraordinary.
The cast is impeccable. Ashley Judd, the first to go on record and name Weinstein, briefly appears as herself among a few others. Recordings of Weinstein are used and an actor portrays Weinstein, but we never see anything but his towering figure. This isn’t his story; this film belongs to those who spoke and those who felt they still couldn’t’, thanks to Weinstein’s abuse of power.
The heart of the film are Kazan and Mulligan. Both are focused and committed, but these aren’t flashy performances. Both are quiet, observant and compassionate. These are the kind of performances that are often ignored by awards voters because they lack the spectacle of acting. Kazan especially infuses her character with desperation and a deep commitment to her work as we see the story take over their personal lives as well as their professional ones.
Schrader’s direction is unsensational; it would have been easy to do a flashy, self-congratulatory film about Weinstein. There is a sense that Hollywood is trying to sweep the industry’s issues under the carpet and blame it on one individual instead of recognizing and interrogating the wider issue plaguing it.
Not all of She Said feels right; it’s produced by Brad Pitt’s production house Plan B. Pitt has also been accused of abuse by his ex-wife Angelina Jolie and Pitt acted in several of Weinstein’s movies back in the day. Weinstein’s abuse was well-known to industry insiders, and while it’s impossible to know for sure how much Pitt knew, this seems like a PR move to clean up his image.
She Said also covers a massive, massive story. There isn’t much time to explore the beginnings in more detail or how things unfolded after the article was published. Perhaps there would have been enough material here to do a miniseries where the entire story could have played out in greater details. But She Said is still one of this year’s finest films, a real triumph.
She Said screened at BFI London Film Festival and is released in cinemas November 25.