It’s hard to make a compelling film about a criminal who has already been convicted, especially when the criminal is as creepy as Harvey Weinstein. (Fortunately, we never have to see his face!) But the newsroom drama She Said is as compelling as it gets, a must-see.
She Said is the story of how Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, two decisively intuitive female investigative reporters for The New York Times, systematically amass an irrefutable body of first-person evidence against Weinstein, Hollywood’s most infamous sexual predator.
(And yes, that is the Megan Twohey, who grew up in Evanston and is an ETHS graduate.)
This story radicalized the burgeoning #MeToo movement, helping to solidify zero tolerance for sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. The movement was spearheaded by activist Tarana Burke, who originated the descriptor #MeToo in 2006.
The film is based on Kantor and Twohey’s book, She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement. The production stays very close to the book. As docudramas go, it feels more “docu” than “drama.” No Hollywood glitz here. What cinematic drama there is takes place as we follow the reporters working the phones from the newsroom, knocking on doors, methodically and doggedly following leads.
They broke this story in 2017 and their book hit the press in September 2019. Kantor and Twohey, along with Ronan Farrow, an investigative reporter for The New Yorker, went on to share the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for their investigative achievements.
The film stars Emmy nominee Zoe Kazan (The Big Sick) as Jodi Kantor and two-time Academy nominee Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman) as Megan Twohey. Kazan and Mulligan, both Brooklynites, became friends 14 years ago while working together in the Broadway transfer of Ian Rickson’s production of The Seagull. Their seamless chemistry brought intimacy and depth to this otherwise straightforward screenplay.
It’s unusual for a film to have two female leads. Both Kazan and Mulligan are both eligible for consideration for lead acting awards. In a testament to their friendship, together they decided that since Kazan had a little more screen time she will submit for lead awards, and Mulligan will submit for supporting. (Given the multitude of strong female performances this Oscar season, this may actually improve Mulligan’s chances for a win.)
In an extraordinary turn, actress and activist Ashley Judd (Double Jeopardy, Bug) plays a small but pivotal role in the film – as herself. She speaks with Kantor early on and reveals that she was sexually harassed by Weinstein in the 1990s. Initially Judd, like all of Weinstein’s victims, is unwilling to go “on the record,” apparently fearful of career-ending reprisal, not to mention the public humiliation associated with disclosing sexual victimization.
But in the end, Judd – an Emmy and Golden Globe nominee – is the first and highest-profile celebrity to go public. What follows is a domino chain of more than 80 Hollywood actresses making sexual harassment and assault accusations against Weinstein, many of whom, fearing for their career, had been bought off by secret settlements that included nondisclosure agreements in exchange for their silence.
Other well-cast costars include Oscar nominee Patricia Clarkson (Shutter Island, Pieces of April), Emmy winner Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Street, Thief), Tony winner Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty, Pride and Prejudice), and Academy Award nominee Samantha Morton (Minority Report, In America).
The film is directed by Maria Schrader, known for her 2020 Netflix miniseries Unorthodox, for which she won an Emmy. She Said methodically unfolds under Schrader’s sensitive direction. We walk away with greater appreciation not only for the story from the investigative reporters, but also for the selflessness with which these two working mothers pursue hunch after hunch and lead after lead to make it happen. It’s inspiring. The script was written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Disobedience).
The original score was orchestrated by composer and pianist Nicholas Britell, a three-time Oscar nominee (Don’t Look Up, If Beale Street Could Talk and Moonlight). Caitlin Sullivan, who is married to Britell, coproduced the score and is its featured cellist.
Like most films about investigative reporting, the crux of this film is about the pursuit of emotionally charged hidden truths. In an interview with Variety, Britell quotes director Schrader as “wanting the music at the beginning of the movie to know more than we do.” The score is beautiful and brings forward the obvious emotional component in She Said. Even if the theme of the film is personally challenging for you, come for the music – you will emerge comforted. Britell’s score will be a strong contender for the Oscar.
It’s hardly a spoiler to note that former movie mogul Weinstein, now 70, is serving a 23-year prison sentence in New York for rape and criminal sexual assault. His effort to appeal this New York conviction is ongoing.
Weinstein was recently extradited to a California jail to stand trial for two additional counts of rape and five more counts of sexual assault. If found guilty by the jury of nine men and three women, he faces up to 135 years in prison.
Raymond Chandler (1888–1959), an American-British novelist and screenwriter who specialized in crime fiction, put it this way: “The law isn’t justice. It’s a very imperfect mechanism. If you press exactly the right buttons and are also lucky, justice may show up in the answer.”
She Said runs two hours, nine minutes, and is playing at the newly reopened AMC Evanston 12 theater at 1715 Maple Ave.