Movies about investigative journalists often centre around men breaking stories a decade or so ago. She Said is about women exposing a wound so recent it still feels raw: the shocking accusations against film producer Harvey Weinstein. Based on the 2019 book ‘She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement’, it details the efforts of New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor (Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Mulligan) to persuade Weinstein’s accusers to go on the record – when most had signed non-disclosure agreements. With Patricia Clarkson as then-assistant managing editor Rebecca Corbett, it’s a starry account of an urgent story.
With a pacy, detail-oriented script from Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Ida), director Maria Schrader (I’m Your Man) presents an unsentimental picture of the two reporters. Kantor is asking industry contacts about Weinstein, then co-chair of The Weinstein Company. She’s either met with wary hints about abuse and bullying, or completely fobbed off. When Twohey returns from maternity leave, she joins Kantor in a dogged fight for the truth. They have to be able to name at least one source before they can go to print, so they start door-stepping and cold-calling suspected victims, while remaining sensitive to the trauma involved.
It’s gripping stuff, with some of the most compelling scenes take place in the UK. Samantha Morton puts in a riveting turn as Weinstein’s former assistant Zelda Perkins, while Jennifer Ehle is compelling as a mother who’s weighing up whether to speak out.
It’s not just an entertaining thriller, but an important historical record
Crucially, the focus is on the women: the character of Weinstein is only heard on the phone, in recordings or with his back to camera. He is still a monstrous presence, particularly eerie in a Hollywood film made with many people who’d encountered him – accuser Ashley Judd even plays herself. She Said continues its bid for gender equality when it follows its heroines back home: both Kantor and Twohey’s male partners are routinely shown looking after children while they work late.
If the storytelling sometimes feels straightforward, it’s more than merited by its captivating story and powerful message. And as both the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have shown, this saga has ramifications far beyond Hollywood. It makes She Said not just an entertaining investigative thriller in the vein of Spotlight, but an important historical record too.
In US theaters Nov 18 and UK cinemas Nov 25.