There's an inherent anti-glamour baked into journalism movies, with their rumpled sun-starved heroes and long walks down halogen-lit hallways, their sad desk lunches and diligently footnoted epiphanies. And yet we still thrill to films like Spotlight, The Post, and All the President's Men because they speak truth to power — torn-from-the-headlines battles that a viewing audience tends to be righteously primed for, having already and often recently lived through it. (The frantic muppets running around on screen may not know what Nixon's cronies or the Catholic Church are up to yet, but we, smug with history, know that justice is coming.)
She Said (in theaters Nov. 18) arrives with still-fresh outrage to mine, and a villain whose dimensions are less that of a man than a monster from a fairy tale: the famed Hollywood ogre Harvey Weinstein. It's faithfully acted by an earnest, intelligent cast, and directed with fervent purpose by Maria Schrader. But the result, for all its galvanizing, well-oiled plot machinations, remains consistently earthbound, and often frustratingly schematic, a movie so bent toward education and edification that it feels a little bloodless in the end — human tragedy as PSA.
JoJo Whilden/Universal Pictures
The litany of Weinstein's most famous targets is well known to us now: household names like Rose McGowan, Ashley Judd, and Gwyneth Paltrow, all of whom appear here in some form (McGowan is represented by an actor's voice on the phone, while Judd plays herself; Paltrow remains a vaporous presence, teasingly out of frame). But the mogul's transgressions were hardly confined to A-list actresses, and the methodical, almost faultlessly respectful screenplay by Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Disobedience, Colette) smartly threads several of his lesser-known victims throughout the narrative — the young production assistants, aspiring ingenues, and low-level Miramax employees who bore the brunt of his volcanic temper and grotesque sexual demands for decades.
When New York Times investigative reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, played here with engaging, unfussy fortitude by Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan, first began circling the story back in 2016, none of this was public record; it was just a few loose threads to tug at as the amorphous idea of a larger #MeToo movement began to take shape. Said follows the pair home as they begin to piece together their reporting, toggling between the bustling Times office and more intimate domestic scenes (Kazan's Jodie struggling to balance 2 a.m. cold calls with the needs of her husband and two little girls; Mulligan's Megan chasing down leads as a way to stave off postpartum depression).
What the movie does to humanize both these women — and their skittish, often terrified witnesses — feels more fully realized than the procedural bits, which often tend to come off like a broad discourse on How Journalism Works. The ever-reliable Samantha Morton and Jennifer Ehle bring a tensile fury and vulnerability to two of the film's most memorable accusers, and Patricia Clarkson and Andre Braugher have the built-in gravitas to play Kantor and Twohey's suffer-no-fools editors as they methodically track down the tramautized, the complicit, and the less-than-innocent bystanders who will eventually allow them to publish their bombshell report.
Maria Schrader, a veteran German actress (In Darkness, Deutschland 83), has become a director of note more recently, with the global Netflix hit Unorthodox and last year's inordinately charming robot romance I'm Your Man. Here she can sometimes seem stymied by the material, or perhaps just too far outside her element; her vision, as sincerely and diligently conveyed as it is, feels safer and more strident than it should be. Oddly, one of the movie's most affecting incidents comes near the end, when actual audio of Weinstein berating an Italian model in a Manhattan hotel room is played as part of a larger scene. (There's an excellent, devastating British documentary from 2019 called Untouchable currently streaming on Hulu, if you prefer your hard truths more unfiltered.) She Said finishes on a triumphant note, but those few harrowing moments offer a stark reminder that the reckoning for Weinstein, and all who followed him, is far from done. Grade: B