‘She Said’ Review: A Quiet Thriller That Speaks Volumes

In February 2020, a New York jury found Harvey Weinstein, the producer whose films had won dozens of Oscars, guilty of criminal sexual assault and rape. Now, two and a half years later, he is again on trial, in California, facing 11 further charges. Jurors in this trial received a particular instruction: The judge barred them from watching the trailer for “She Said.”

That’s the film adaptation of the nonfiction book of the same title. In it, the New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey describe — in pragmatic, restrained how-we-got-that-story prose — the reporting that led them to publish a series of articles detailing Weinstein’s behavior. Those articles helped ignite the #MeToo movement, in which thousands, perhaps millions, of women took to social media and other channels to detail their own stories of sexual harassment and assault. Some men have been held accountable. Others have largely eluded consequences. Debate continues about whether the movement has gone too far or not far enough. Already, some Hollywood industry leaders have observed a regression, if not an outright backlash.

This is the contentious climate in which the film arrives. “She Said,” directed by Maria Schrader from a script by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, is built solid and low to the ground, as if designed to withstand these shifts in cultural winds.

Measured and deliberate, the film avoids grandstanding, speaking in low tones where another movie might shout. Little is glamorized or embellished here. (New York City has rarely looked so blah.) The points the film makes about predation, complicity and silencing are often made in passing. “She Said” concentrates instead on process, prioritizing the patient accretion of testimony and corroboration. It’s a thriller, yes, but rendered discreetly, in sensible workplace separates. Its force accumulates slowly, stealthily even — lead by lead, fact by verified fact — until the tension surrounding a cursor’s click is an agony. (The New York Times was not involved in the production and has no financial stake in it.)

“She Said” opens not in the newsroom or in one of the hotel suites that Weinstein preferred, but in rural Ireland in 1992 when a young woman encounters a film crew, which swiftly adopts her. But only seconds later she is shown running down a city street, panicked — a victim, it would seem, of assault. (The film does not depict the assaults themselves, only the aftermath.)

The time then shifts to 2016, when Twohey (Carey Mulligan) is reporting on women alleging that Donald J. Trump assaulted them and Kantor (Zoe Kazan) is writing about Syrian refugees. When Kantor realizes that a tweet by the actress Rose McGowan (voiced by Keilly McQuail) may refer to Weinstein, she begins feeling out the story. Encouraged by their editor, Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson, poised and assertive, in fabulous statement jewelry), she partners with Twohey. Together they try to persuade a disparate group of actresses (including Ashley Judd, playing herself) and former employees to go on the record, while also tracking down the documentation (settlement agreements, letters to the board) that substantiates their claims of assault.

In the film, as in life, the reporters benefit from a lucky break or two — a source within the Weinstein Company (Zach Grenier), an admission by a Weinstein lawyer (Peter Friedman). But “She Said” largely stresses the unglamorous grind of an investigation: the phone calls, the doorstepping, the delicate moral suasion that reporters use to convince sources to trust them. Here is the argument Twohey uses with the women she speaks with: “I can’t change what happened to you in the past, but together we may be able to use your experience to help protect other people.”

While forged in the mold of other films about investigative reporting, like “Spotlight,” “All the President’s Men” and “The Post,” “She Said” privileges female experience. It follows its journalists home more extensively than those earlier films did, accentuating their identities as women and mothers. This choice helps explain the sacrifices these journalists made and the reputational risks they took to report this story. It argues that a reporter’s private life and personhood might animate her work without compromising her ethics.

Kantor and Twohey are often introduced in long shot or medium shot and surrounded by other women — perhaps because harassment and assault might happen to any woman, because any woman might want to make them right. In one scene, which doesn’t seem drawn from the book, a man at a bar makes a pass at Twohey, reacting bitterly when she shuts him down. But “She Said” doesn’t style itself as a manifesto. In place of firebrand feminism, the film emphasizes decency, perspicacity and rigor.

This cool, efficient touch is felt throughout. In the movie’s most affecting scene, Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton), a former Miramax employee, speaks to Kantor when even an off-the-record conversation risked violating her nondisclosure agreement. Seated in a London cafe, Perkins details what she witnessed. Her voice is even, her gestures are few. It’s devastating.

The central performances echo this restraint. Mulligan makes Twohey a touch steelier than Kazan’s more demonstrative Kantor. But neither actress leans into mannerism or quirk; neither showboats.

Fans of “All the President’s Men” might find themselves wishing for something zingier — the tang of conspiracy, say, more trench coats and shadowed parking garages. But the film’s few missteps occur when it tilts toward drama, in scenes that show younger versions of their sources. Reporters have only their informants’ words and what documents they can unearth. They don’t have access to their memories. The flashbacks give space and weight to what the accusers endured. They are never salacious. But for the camera to go where a reporter can’t feels like a wrong direction.

Weinstein appears in the film only glancingly. His recorded voice is heard, and in a late scene the back of his head (well, the back of the actor Mike Houston’s head) can be seen. The focus, rightly, remains with his accusers and the reporters who convinced them to go on record, together, so that the usual responses and denials — she’s crazy, she’s confused, she’s vindictive, she wanted it, too — lacked force. Women were believed, at least long enough that their stories could be investigated and corroborated.

“She Said” details a triumph of journalistic sympathy and precision. What will become of the real-world movement this reporting kindled? The jury’s still out.

Alexis Soloski is a contributing writer to The Times and The Guardian. Her debut novel, “Here in the Dark,” is forthcoming from Flatiron Books next year.

She Said
Rated R for language, implied sexual violence and patriarchal horrors. Running time: 2 hours 28 minutes. In theaters.

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