Review by: Jonathan W. Hickman
Director: Maria Schrader
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Samantha Morton and Jennifer Ehle
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 2 hours, 8 minutes
Without getting exploitative or overtly lewd, She Said is a compelling masterclass in investigative journalism. The film celebrates journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor’s award-winning pioneering reporting, which uncovered the evil committed by a powerful man and the system that protected him.
“She Said” takes you to the editorial office of the New York Times. Twohey (“Promising Young Woman” star Carey Mulligan) is an established writer who has a knack for connecting with her subjects. Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan, see “The Big Sick”) is portrayed as a little less experienced in investigating. But she’s the one who initially decides to pursue a story about sexual abuse allegations in Hollywood that centers on superproducer Harvey Weinstein.
When investigations begin, we see women both in professional settings and at home. Twohey is pregnant with her first child and Kantor has two children. This work/family dynamic helps make each character distinctive while also holding them together. Twohey begins her journey as a mother, and Kantor, at least as we see in this film, expands her training to become an investigative reporter. You can learn from each other.
So much of the investigation depends on nuance; Hitting the right note and earning the subject’s trust is critical to getting to the truth. And in She Said we see the process unfold in an intimate way. It’s fascinating and informative.
As the investigation progresses, sources emerge that lead to the heart of the story, but few agree to put it on record. Today we know the names that comprise the who’s who of the Hollywood elite. And German-born director Maria Schrader (Emmy-winner for the series Unorthodox) deftly uses her voice talent and complex cinematography to reveal the actresses who ultimately defeat a monster.
Through this fly-on-the-wall approach, we see reporters making phone calls and meeting sources in cafes and restaurants while patiently and painfully listening to their sources. Listening is key, and it’s in awkward silence that the magic happens. The pressure of getting someone to go on the record is palpable, but Twohey and Kantor show exceptional restraint. Anyone pursuing a journalism degree, or viewers interested in the business and techniques involved in producing world-class reporting, should tune in.
She Said also works well as a thriller. There is a palpable risk, certainly professional, when these two journalists go about their work. Schrader adeptly shies away from going entirely into clichéd thriller elements and focuses intensely on the actual events. There is no need to fake it here because the story is significant and is part of our ongoing national dialogue on sexual abuse and harassment.
And to that end, the tension that the investigation creates on screen is extraordinary and crackles with energy. The New York Times is in jeopardy when a snarling Weinstein makes threats and employs an army of connected lawyers. But all the money in the world couldn’t silence the voices of truth forever. And as we know, that news and the work of writer Ronan Farrow marked the beginning of the end for Weinstein and his empire.
Mulligan, who has been nominated twice for an Oscar, is likely to receive another nomination for her work here. And Kazan is equally commendable. However, assisting performances are crucial to maintain the razor-sharp edge and brisk pace. Patricia Clarkson and Andre Braugher get juicy roles, with Braugher teaching us how to handle tricky phone calls — click.
Few recent films have translated a current event into a narrative film better than She Said. This year, director Ron Howard brought us Thirteen Lives, a tale about the incredible rescue of a youth soccer team in Thailand who were trapped in a cave. This film proved not to be as compelling or exciting as the documentary The Rescue, which covered the same area. Unhampered by such comparisons, She Said stands out from other non-fiction books covering the event (see for example the 2019 BBC documentary Untouchable).
Like Michael Mann’s The Insider and, of course, the pinnacle of journalistic cinema Alan J. Pakula’s All the President’s Men, She Said breathes authenticity. It’s a major film about one of the most important news stories in recent history.