Talk to any investigative reporter, and they will fill your ears with tales about the combination of excitement and pure existential dread that occurs right before an editor hits the Publish button. So much legwork leads up to that moment; so much shoe-leather, metaphorical or otherwise, gets sanded away in the name of bringing something to light, or someone to justice. Then, with a click — and in the age of digital journalism, it’s usually a click — they pass the point of no return (and/or enter the realm of possible retractions).
These clicks can change the world, however, thanks to every step that leads up to them: the cold calls, the knocking on doors, the after-hours research digs, the dogged excavations of data that unexpectedly dig up a big break. And it was that type of work that led New York Times‘ reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohy to eventually publish a 3,300 word article that detailed film mogul Harvey Weinstein’s long history of sexual assault — and how, thanks to a network of complicity, the fear of an industry and a series of huge payouts, he’d managed to avoid accountability for his crimes. It had been an open secret for ages, and a story that many journalists had been trying to break for years. Kantor and Twohy were the ones who finally managed to get enough folks to go on the record. Their piece was followed a few days later by Ronan Farrow’s expose in the New Yorker. And then the dam broke.
She Said knows that you know how this story ends, or given that there’s really no “end” in sight, what happens next: court cases, felony charges, the birth of the #MeToo movement, the backlash, and long legacies of abuse finally being dragged into the light. Not just in show business, either — almost every industry has had to reckon with its share of monsters in the wake of their Weinstein story and its aftermath. Like the 2019 book of the same name, this often compelling drama wants to show you the blood, sweat and gallons of spilled tears that went into getting that story published, as well as the sacrifices made, the threats issued and the brick walls that this duo encountered. It’s a movie that’s not about justice so much as it’s about old-fashioned investigative journalism. Watch exactly how the muckraking sausage gets made.
There’s a precedent for these types of films, and She Said isn’t trying to hide the DNA of All the President’s Men that runs through its veins; it knows that a comparison with the gold standard for Hollywood’s Fourth-Estate procedurals is inevitable. Instead, this deep dive on how Kantor and Twohy followed the money plugs itself directly into that template, and aspires to come as close as possible to matching it in terms of intense-reportage rigor and inside-baseball authenticity. Our Hoffman and Redford team this time out comes in the form of Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan, who play Kantor and Twohy less as a Mutt-and-Jeff duo on the beat than two slightly different Times staffers who go from competitive to complimentary in a blink. There’s an early scene of the two of them eyeing each other warily across the Gray Lady’s bullpen, yet once they decide to team up, you begin to view them as one two-headed reporting organism — a Woodward and Bernstein that aren’t trying to take down a President so much as take on an active ogre. (Also, if you can bask in Andre Braugher’s wonderful, slow-burn portrayal of former NYT executive editor Dean Baquet and not think of Jason Robards’ similarly authoritative take on Ben Bradlee, you’re a better person than me. I can’t think of a higher compliment to give Braugher’s work here.)
Tellingly, though, German director Maria Schrader doesn’t start with the journalists grinding it out, or a tiny thread being pulled, or even the initial phone calls that lead Kantor and Twohy to press their Wonder Twins rings together and form an unstoppable force for good. She Said opens on a young woman in the Irish countryside, shuffling on to a movie shoot in progress. She’s been promised a job working on the production, and is all smiles as she waves to her friends on set. Then we smash cut to this same woman running down a street, clutching her clothes and sobbing. We eventually find out that this is Laura Madden, who (as later played by Jennifer Ehle) will become a key player in the Times’ piece.
But from the very beginning, we see the consequences of Weinstein’s actions. Madden entered the industry as someone bright-eyed, energetic, hopeful; she exited it as a survivor who says she’s still dealing with the trauma from that day decades later. It would become a familiar story, how this man not only abused his power but robbed these women of a desire to be part of the creative process — to make art. The film sets the stakes high from square one by showing us what the reporters will try to stop. And while it refuses to play down how those violations disrupted lives and livelihoods, it’s also determined to give these women their voices back.
It definitely does that, and for every scene in which Kazan and Mulligan get doors slammed in their faces, have inquiries brushed off or find lines of questioning met with dial tones, there are moments in which their dogged efforts are met with people speaking out. Sometimes it’s reluctantly, after a lot of coaxing and patience and sympathy. Other times, the stories spill forth with a sense of vitriol finally being able to flow freely. Flashbacks fill in some blanks, and it may take a second for you to realize that is indeed Ashley Judd on a FaceTime conversation, playing herself and recreating her admission that yes, the anonymous film producer she referred to in an Op-Ed was Harvey. An extended interview with an ex-Miramax employee in a London cafe serves as both an example of the scope and seismic effects of the damage Weinstein had done, and a reminder at how Samantha Morton can turn a “simple” exchange into an aria of pain and perseverance.
And the emphasis on the female perspective of this story doesn’t stop at the title; it extends to every aspect of the narrative. To suggest that Kantor and Twohy did everything that Woodward and Bernstein did, but backwards and in heels, is too reductive. But I don’t recall the screen versions of the Watergate reporters juggling co-parenting duties while chasing down leads, or bonding over post-partum depression, or — in what is either the film’s funniest and single most frightening sequence — being forced to yell down douchebags in a bar who are coming on to them after they’d politely, firmly rebuffed their advances. Schrader, screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Kazan and Mulligan repeatedly show us how great at their jobs these two are. None of them are pretending the sociopolitical playing field is completely level, either.
But maybe the most significant element that puts She Said head and shoulders above a lot of similar journo-dramas, however, is the emphasis on the twisted-roots nature of all of this. The movie suggests that this investigation really starts with Twohy’s frustration over working on a story involving women credibly accusing Donald Trump of sexual misconduct and seeing him get elected nonetheless. After Bill O’Reilly steps down from his TV show due to allegations and admissions of pay-offs, it’s Kantor who goes to her editor Rebecca Corbett (Patrica Clarkson, solid as always) and says, “What about Hollywood?” A phone call with Rose McGowan (voiced by Keilly McQuail) suggests that focusing Harvey is a good start but way too narrow, as there’s a whole “supply chain” of enablers and wrongdoers. The idea is: this is going on everywhere, on every level in which power, corruption and lies operate.
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And when Weinstein’s lawyer and a former Miramax finance team member finally confirm and/or admit that following the money was indeed the right move for this journalistic duo, you get a genuine sense of how deep and how wide all of his cover-ups went. It’s a story about survivors, but also about systematic sexism, systematic abuse, systematic intimidation, systematic despair over anything changing. Only the last part gets partially redressed.
She Said doesn’t pretend that wrongs have been righted once and for all. It just wants to pay tribute to two people stood up to a Goliath and took him down not with one good shot but a million tiny cuts and a lot of hard work. It also doesn’t pretend that it isn’t a Hollywood movie in which great actors play at taking down IRL bad actors, and editorial meetings double as exposition dumps, and the score is shoving you directly into the desired emotional results with a total lack of grace. But it speaks well to the movie’s leads — both Kazan and Mulligan do beautifully understated work here, and understand exactly the heroic beats they must hit to give Kantor and Twohy their proper due — and its emphasis on the persistence of asking questions (then asking even more questions) that we get a sense of how tough and courageous it was to take Harvey on. The conversation isn’t over, but it has changed. And by the time you do see the Times’ reporters and editors huddled around a computer monitor, scouring sentences and double-checking last-minute additions, the moving of a cursor over to a Publish button becomes as suspenseful and victorious as slaying a dragon.