The best film nobody will watch has arrived. A tragedy too, since “She Said,” based on the book of the same name about the Harvey Weinstein reporting, is an honest thriller based on journalistic practice.
During her reporting on then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) received threats from anonymous trolls and Trump himself. She then takes maternity leave, unclear what her return to the New York Times would look like.
Meanwhile Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) receives a tip that Rose McGowan was raped by Harvey Weinstein when she was 23. Communications with those folks, the former president included, occur entirely from the reporters’ perspective, often via phone calls. (When Weinstein does arrive at The Times Building on Eighth Avenue for an eventual showdown, only his backside is shown for a brief moment.)
Kantor then interviews actors Ashley Judd (who plays herself) and Gwyneth Paltrow (her voice), who share similar stories with McGowan. And as Kantor interviews more people, another troubling obstacle emerges: No one will go on record.
Unsure how to encourage sources to tell their stories publicly, Kantor seeks advice from Twohey, who joins the investigation. They find more victims muzzled by NDAs, uncover decades-old police reports and HR policies designed to protect Weinstein.
Like “Spotlight,” depicting the Boston Globe’s reporting on the Catholic Church scandal, this is a story about the monotonous, frustrating journey to the truth. Things don’t immediately fall into place. “She Said” involves a series of victories that add up.
It’s hard to avoid comparisons to other journalism films. It’s a small dramatic subgenre, from “Shattered Glass” to “Nightcrawler,” with uneven expectations and tropes. The more suspenseful – chases, combat, the works – the less honest such stories become. That’s not the gig.
And yet “She Said” is every bit a thrilling experience. Call it a drama or a biography, but composer Nicholas Britell (“Andor,” “Moonlight”) uses each note to stress importance, each breakthrough accompanied by a thrilling score.
Those orchestral delights are especially helpful since modern-day journalism isn’t always the most visually enticing. Phone calls, texts, emails, coffeeshop interviews, web searches, public information requests are the primary tools – add the occasional cold approach.
Is that thrilling enough to warrant Britell’s soundtrack? Yes, absolutely. It’s the work. It’s the revelations. It’s the outcomes. Content dictates style, and the content here is pressing, told quite well.
Director Maria Schrader and screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz concoct a brisk film that turns sometimes monotonous exchanges and settings into something with a splendid payoff. And it doesn’t over explain itself.
Compare “She Said” to “The Post,” which depicts the infamous Pentagon Papers and fear of jail time for reporting leaked documents. The Spielberg flick drifts into grandstanding monologues about First Amendment implications. Not the case here.
“She Said” has every right to consider broader implications – this a major moment in the #MeToo movement. No such moments. Sure, Twohey unleashes on a bar rando who won’t leave Kantor or her alone, but that’s hardly a contrived instance. It was probably just Tuesday.
Instead of looking to the future, “She Said” has one goal: Get the story published. What happens after that day in 2017 is beyond the scope. And the film’s focus means other aspects of these heroic reporters’ lives enjoy a glance more than a longer gaze.
Both parents, the Times muckrakers navigate work and home life. Kantor’s daughter overhears enough work calls to wonder about some of the words mother uses. But their families exist more as texture than a driving motivation.
Some viewers might dislike this, declare it thin character development. Nope. It simply means “She Said” is plot driven, all about the current project. It need not address every possible theme, venture deeper into Kantor or Twohey’s psyche. Exploring how to take down a media giant is enough for one film.
The subject matter is obviously important. Beyond that, “She Said” is solid, approaching the material respectfully as it depicts what transpired behind the scenes. It won’t be a big draw for mass audiences – and plenty will despise it simply for existing – but it’s a compelling film on its own with solid performances and an accurate look at the Fourth Estate’s daily operations.
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