When the allegations of sexual harassment and assault against super-producer Harvey Weinstein were published in October 2017 by the New York Times and the New Yorker, it hit Hollywood like a bomb. The stories ignited the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement, prompted an industrywide reckoning with a culture of harassment, bullying and silence, and ultimately led to Weinstein’s conviction for rape and sexual assault in New York in February 2020 and his subsequent imprisonment. Weinstein is currently on trial for rape and sexual assault in Los Angeles, where his victims have been offering gut-wrenching testimony about their experiences with him.
These events are fresh and ongoing, but at times it can feel that 2017 was eons ago. Though it’s recent history, the incredible bravery of the women who came forward and the journalists who told their story bears repeating, as in Maria Schrader’s “She Said,” the film adaptation of the book based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation by New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who broke the Weinstein story after months of investigation and decades of Weinstein successfully silencing his victims.
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Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan portray Kantor and Twohey respectively in this no-nonsense journalistic drama in the vein of “All the President’s Men” or “Spotlight.” The screenplay, by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, is dense, and errs on the side of being careful, almost clinical at times, but there is a tremendous amount of pressure here, as in the investigation, to get it exactly right.
The emphasis in “She Said” is on the process of information gathering and evidence, and it demonstrates how Kantor and Twohey did just that with the help of their team at the New York Times (Patricia Clarkson and Andre Braugher are particularly fantastic as tough but supportive editors Rebecca Corbett and Dean Baquet). Though merely telling this story is a decidedly feminist project, the focus is on the facts, as in the story and in this slow-burn drama that methodically builds to a moving and emotional crescendo.
Schrader’s directorial instincts counteract any stiffness in the script. Schrader shows us these women in the context of their world, surrounded by men, yes, but also by other women. Our heroines are constantly in motion, walking purposefully on crowded New York City streets, picking up calls from sources while caring for their children. Jodi scrawling the Netflix password on an envelope and handing it to her daughter while on the phone is one of the best visual jokes.
Natasha Braier’s cinematography captures the realism of the city, while editor Hansjörg Weiβbrich montages their movement over their interviews and story meetings. Though this is a wordy, dialogue-heavy film, much of the storytelling is visual, whether in the production design, by Meredith Lippincott, of the New York Times offices (spot the copy of Peter Biskind’s ‘90s indie film expose “Down and Dirty Pictures”), or in the costume design by Brittany Loar. Jodi and Megan sport the comfortable business casual of a reporter on the go, and joke about how they’re “reporter twins,” but Megan’s booties and Jodi’s loafers speak to the subtle differences in their characters — Megan is the unflappable bulldog interviewer, peppering powerful men with probing questions, while Jodi is on the softer side, empathetically connecting with her sources and taking in their stories.
As to the details, Schrader keeps the focus on their voices, nodding to the film’s title, and to the power of offering one’s own testimony publicly. She never visualizes the assaults themselves; shots of a hotel corridor or a bathrobe discarded on a bed are chilling enough. Schrader also utilizes nonfiction to great effect, layering in the real audio of victim Ambra Battilana over a slow montage of empty hotel shots. Weinstein victim Ashley Judd, who was one of the first women to go on the record with Kantor and Twohey, plays herself, and the moment she decides to speak out is particularly powerful beat.
With care, thoughtfulness and rigor, Schrader and the filmmakers of “She Said” craft a film that shows the process of building this paradigm-shifting piece of journalism in a manner that is simultaneously thrilling and grindingly methodical, as it subtly builds to a surprisingly emotional climax, aided greatly by Nicholas Britell’s score.
Recent history can be so easy to forget, or to normalize, but “She Said” is a powerful reminder of the horrors of Weinstein’s wide-ranging crimes. It’s not a period at the end of this saga, but an underlining of what we already know, and a tribute to those who raised their voices, and those who listened, and brought their stories out of the silence.
What "She Said" • 3½ stars out of four • Run time 2:08 • Rating R for language and descriptions of sexual assault
11 of the greatest films set in the world of journalism
‘Ace in the Hole’
1951 • Kirk Douglas stars in director Billy Wilder’s downbeat tale of a reporter who exploits a potential tragedy in his zeal to boost his career. A critical and commercial flop upon release, the film is now recognized as a classic. Also known as “The Big Carnival.”
‘All the President’s Men’
1976 • The gold standard for films about journalism, director Alan J. Pakula’s political drama follows Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) as they investigate a break-in at the Watergate Hotel.
1987 • Shallow anchorman William Hurt and earnest news writer Albert Brooks compete for the affections of workaholic TV producer Holly Hunter in this tale of journalistic ethics and romantic frustration from director James L. Brooks (“As Good As It Gets”).
1941 • If Orson Welles had directed no other film, he’d still be remembered for this groundbreaking drama about a newspaper tycoon (played by Welles) whose limitless ambition and hunger for political power ultimately overshadow all the good he’s done.
‘Good Night, and Good Luck’
2005 • David Strathairn was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of legendary TV journalist Edward R. Murrow in this drama, directed by George Clooney, about the importance of a free press as a safeguard against duplicitous politicians.
‘His Girl Friday’
1940 • Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant trade witticisms at breakneck speed in this exhilarating take on “The Front Page” that adds a romantic angle to the newspaper yarn and allows director Howard Hawks to explore the sheer lunacy of screwball comedy.
1976 • Peter Finch won a posthumous Oscar for his performance as a “mad as hell” television anchorman in this prophetic look at the dumbing-down of news shows, co-starring Faye Dunaway, scripted by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet (“The Verdict”).
2018 • Director Steven Spielberg makes a timely case for the enduring virtues of journalism and the vital role of a free press in a democracy. Clearly, the story of the Washington Post and its 1971 battle with the Nixon Administration to publish the Pentagon Papers resonates in an era in which “fake news” has become a buzz phrase for politicians unwilling to be confronted with inconvenient truths. Leaked by former U.S. military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, the papers exposed government secrets about the Vietnam War.
“The Post” stars Meryl Streep as publisher Katharine Graham and Tom Hanks as editor Ben Bradlee. The film was nominated for six Golden Globes.
2003 • Hayden Christensen stars as a reporter whose tendency to fabricate stories gets him into trouble — and puts him at odds with his ethically upright editor (Peter Sarsgaard) — in director Billy Ray’s fact-based account of a scandal at the New Republic magazine.
2015 • Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo star in director Tom McCarthy’s outstanding drama about the Boston Globe’s investigation of pedophile priests and widespread child abuse in the Boston area. The film won the Academy Award for best picture.
2007 • Two journalists with the San Francisco Chronicle — political cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) and crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.) — go looking for a serial killer in this brilliant, overlooked film from director David Fincher (“The Social Network”).
Also of note
“Absence of Malice” (1981)
“Deadline — U.S.A.” (1952)
“The Insider” (1999)
“The Killing Fields” (1984)
“The Paper” (1994)
“The Year of Living Dangerously” (1982)