The Assistant

5 out of 5 stars
The Assistant
Photograph: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

Real-life names aren’t necessary in this harrowing tale of a sexual predator protected by power and the cowed people around him.

An unseen entertainment mogul haunts Kitty Green’s flawless thriller The Assistant, a hawkeyed probe into systemic abuses of power, set before #MeToo. Harvey Weinstein is the obvious inspiration for the bigwig, and we get sufficient clues: a NYC-based production house, a gruff, eerily familiar voice off-camera, the havoc he leaves in his wake. But Green never name-checks the now-ousted producer. Thanks to this approach—examining not a single offender but instead a suffocating culture of silence, peopled by enablers—the understated film builds into a gut punch that’s more painful than anything in the superficial, recent Roger Ailes exposé Bombshell.

Before then, we watch a day in the work life of the selflessly committed office newbie Jane (Ozark’s Julia Garner, finding astonishing emotional precision in the smallest details). Green, a director of provocative nonfiction films like Casting JonBenet, observes Jane’s routine with a documentarian’s clear-eyed compassion and delicate, rhythmic discipline: Jane makes copies, scrubs appalling stains out of the boss’s couch, recovers a piece of incriminating jewelry and drafts humiliating apologies when she is unfairly blamed for mistakes. A pair of seasoned male assistants guides her, adding to her intimidation with their arrogance.

Garner’s breathtakingly controlled performance—all withheld tears and suppressed screams—brings to mind Chantal Akerman’s 1975 feminist masterpiece, Jeanne Dielman, itself a study in mind-numbing routine. You wonder if Jane will eventually snap, and you almost wish she would during her visit to a condescending, dismissive HR exec (Succession’s Matthew Macfadyen, memorably cringe-inducing) to report her suspicions after an entry-level female hire is inexplicably treated to a fancy hotel stay. But Green doesn’t grant us that release. Instead, she amplifies Jane’s suffering with a vigilant camera that’s fixated on her quiet isolation in a banal, unglamorous office. Here, the only relief is knowing that a watershed moment is on the horizon.

By: Tomris Laffly



Release details

Release date:
Friday January 31 2020
87 mins

Cast and crew

Kitty Green
Kitty Green
Makenzie Leigh
Matthew Macfadyen
Julia Garner