“She Said” will draw comparisons to Alan Pakula’s 1976 political thriller “All the President’s Men” and Tom McCarthy’s 2015 Oscar-winning best picture, “Spotlight.” While not quite in that league, director Maria Schrader’s drama about the two New York Times journalists behind the Harvey Weinstein exposé shares the timeliness of those films; they all appeared at the right moment to interrogate and highlight their subject matter. Weinstein’s downfall and subsequent sentencing for criminal sexual assault and rape in the third degree began with the investigative reporting of Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, whose work mobilized the #MeToo movement.
Adapting Kantor and Twohey’s book “She Said” screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz makes only a brief mention of Ronan Farrow’s parallel investigation at The New Yorker (he shared the 2018 Pulitzer Prize with the duo). Instead, the script focuses on Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Twohey (Carey Mulligan) as they follow leads and try to get survivors of Weinstein’s assaults to reveal their identities and tell their stories. “Will you go on record?” becomes a rallying cry throughout the film, and the question is posed not just to former Weinstein employees like Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle) but also celebrities like Rose McGowan (voiced by Keilly McQuail) and Ashley Judd, who plays herself.
In 2016, before the Weinstein story broke, Twohey was investigating Donald Trump’s behavior around women. “She Said” begins with the pregnant Twohey working on that story. As a result, she is verbally attacked while at her doctor’s office and demonized on Fox News. Fittingly, Mulligan makes her character a hard-nosed journalist, a nice counterpoint to the softer, emotional shadings Kazan brings to Kantor. That they are both working mothers allows for several scenes of family life amid the workplace dramas.
More often, we follow Kantor through investigative scenes and a series of interactions with former employees at Weinstein’s production company, Miramax. Samantha Morton shines in her one major scene as Zelda Perkins, who worked for Weinstein; her blistering monologue reminds us of her underutilized talents. Ehle is also very good as Madden, who reported that Weinstein prodded her for massages. At one point, Schrader and her editor, Hansjörg Weißbrich, make a violent cut from Madden’s excitement at working for Miramax to her running down a London street, anxiety and fear written across her face.
“She Said” never shows any abuse, though it does feature graphic descriptions of it that may trigger some viewers. There’s also a recording of Weinstein trying to coerce a terrified employee into sexual acts. Onscreen, Mike Houston plays Weinstein, but we see only the back of his head as he rants and rails.
Though it’s understandable for the film not to dwell on him, keeping Weinstein at arm’s length doesn’t have the effect the filmmakers intended. Rather than give the impression that he’s truly toxic, it robs the viewer of feeling the full brunt of the horror he unleashed. A crucial, in-person scene between Weinstein and Twohey is shorn of all its power by not allowing us the satisfaction of bearing witness to this “showdown.”
Andre Braugher, as then executive editor Dean Baquet, has several satisfying scenes where he dismisses Weinstein’s angry phone calls with a stern yet calm demeanor or a quick finger hanging up on him. His scene partner-in-crime is often Patricia Clarkson’s Rebecca Corbett, the Gray Lady’s assistant managing editor at the time. This duo brings a sting and a sense of authority to “She Said.”
One of the complaints I heard at the New York Film Festival press screening was how dry the investigative scenes were. There are a lot of them — this is not an action movie — and there are some unintentionally goofy scenes of people taking important phone calls in the middle of the street.
The filmmakers try to bring some drama to these moments, though I can understand why they wouldn’t necessarily be enticing to watch. However, since I love movies about process, especially if they’re filled with scenes of people just doing their jobs, I was more riveted than the average viewer might be.
“She Said” is successful where it matters most: It shows just how easy it is for predatory men in power to be kept there by an equally corrupt system of people who either look the other way or protect them.
As “She Said” rolls to its climactic scene of the publication of Kantor and Twohey’s Oct. 5, 2017, article “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades,” it provokes intense anger while also allowing us to feel the same sense of satisfaction its protagonists feel when the story finally goes live.
Directed by Maria Schrader. Written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz and based on the book “She Said” by Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor. Starring Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Andre Braugher, Patricia Clarkson, Samantha Morton, Jennifer Ehle, Angela Yeoh, and Ashley Judd. At Boston Common, Kendall Square Cinema, Fenway & RPX, and suburban theaters. R (strong language, graphic descriptions of sexual assault)
This review has been updated to include Samantha Morton’s first name.
Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.