By John H. Foote
(****) In theatres
All the President’s Men (1976) might still reign as the preeminent film about investigative reporting ever made, possessed of an urgency in exploring what would lead to the unseating of a President. The film remains an extraordinary study of reporting before the internet, when research happened in libraries and interviews were conducted door to door or by phone calls if the subject chose to speak with you at all.
All the President’s Men – and Zodiac (2007) – now have a challenger in their category. This contender is a present-day story, but even with the internet, dogged reporting, sleepless nights, and disconnected phone calls are still hazards of the job. In She Said, the lacerating film about the investigation of Harvey Weinstein by two New York Times reporters – Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) – the journalists discover the biggest challenge in bringing Weinstein down was getting women to go on the record. They knew he was guilty because of how nervous and reactive Miramax was and the over-the-top smugness of Weinstein when they spoke to him. But they also smelled fear in his voice, the fear of knowing they were onto him.
I met Harvey Weinstein once; he was introduced to me by a publicist for Miramax and in town for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). It was a fast exchange, seconds, a handshake. He never once made eye contact. He was clearly not interested in meeting me or anyone else and was quickly whisked away as he barked orders. First impression? Arrogant, entitled – a terrible first impression. But his company sure made great films, and he was an expert at finding them.
Weinstein trusted his gut and when he found actors he liked, screenplays he admired, and directors he wanted to work with, he made the deal on the spot and signed the cheque. No focus groups; Harvey trusted Harvey. He gave us Quentin Tarantino and Pulp Fiction (1994), Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Good Will Hunting (1997), Shakespeare in Love (1998) which won him his Oscar for Best Film, and the list goes on and on. People even then knew he was a serial rapist and a monster. Even then, in the late ’90s.
Weinstein ran Miramax by intimidation and fear. He would fire someone for a small mistake and humiliate people just because he could. Sure, he was a brilliant distributor and knew how to promote a film to the Oscars, but behind the scenes, he was a brute, and the entire movie industry knew it. What is most troubling about the story is the fact that many women protected him, either driven by fear of reprisal or destruction.
It is poetic justice that two women brought down Weinstein and that these women, like him, published the story by first trusting their gut. Kantor and Twohey both understood the only way for the story to get exposed was to have someone go on the record, and most of the victims were too scared, had been paid off, or had signed non-disclosure agreements. Someone, or a group of victims, would have to come forward, and both reporters understood their terror in doing so.
Yet they remained dogged, making call after call, being blocked at every avenue until finally, they got Weinstein on a call. The conversation in the movie is an actual tape of the phone call. It might be the most chilling moment in a film this year. The arrogance of this man, the entitlement, that sense of being above the law remains terrifying, and his words are as horrifying as anything former President Trump said about women.
But gradually they go deeper, despite the threats they receive to their career and their lives. They finally have enough evidence, and their editor says simply, “Time to write.” On October 5, 2017, the world of Harvey Weinstein imploded when the headlines read, “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades.” None of his fame, Oscars, or money could save the self-appointed “Sheriff of New York City” now.
Once the first group of women bravely spoke out, more came forward, and we learned that not even the biggest names in Hollywood had avoided being harassed by Weinstein. Gwyneth Paltrow, the poster girl for Miramax, was among those added to the list, along with Ashley Judd and many other actresses and up-and-comers. Weinstein had dumped millions into paying off the victims for their silence and continued on his path of destruction. And most of Hollywood, if not all, knew about it.
Schrader’s brisk film plays with alarming urgency and suspense, even though we know exactly where it will end. But the movie reveals what they had to endure to get him. How could one man do much damage against women and a whole industry and still have such barricades protecting him?
The performances of the two leading ladies are absolute perfection, each devoted to their cause, each very aware of what it might cost them. They proceed with intelligence and resilience, their eyes never off the endgame; yet when they finally have him, it is less a celebration than a sense of relief. Mulligan as Twohey, the more aggressive of the two, is superb, capturing her fearless insistence to continue digging, despite the threats and dead ends. Dealing with intense post-partum depression after the birth of her child, she free falls into the investigation. Her performance is a triumph.
Zoe Kazan, the granddaughter of renowned director Elia, plays Zoe Kantor, a different kind of reporter. Deeply concerned with the women who were assaulted and raped, she is less confrontational and gentle with her investigative questions. Her concern is evident, and the women sense she is with them, no matter what happens. Kazan has been on everyone’s radar for quite some time, and this should be the performance that takes her to the next level, perhaps Oscar attention.
The rest of the cast is superb, including Patricia Clarkson as The Times Editor, Jennifer Ehle, Samantha Morton, Andre Braugher, and Ashley Judd playing herself. Weinstein is seen from behind, portrayed by an actor, but is heard on tape.
This story began the #MeToo movement and a monumental shift. Harvey Weinstein was stopped and will be imprisoned for the rest of his life.
A searing, brilliant film, like Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men, it deals with the facts because they are often far more shattering than fiction. The narrative was already there; all they had to do was shoot it with integrity.
She Said is steeped in integrity. On to the Academy Awards.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.