Even if newspapers, in actual paper form, are becoming more of a rarity each year, the nuts and bolts of journalism haven’t changed much in centuries. The job still involves contacting sources, gathering facts and quotes, and packaging the results into a clear and accurate piece of writing. Yet in the great based-on-fact newspaper movies that readily come to mind—All the President’s Men, Spotlight, The Post—it’s largely, if not solely, men who are doing that legwork. Maria Schrader’s smart and satisfying She Said puts a different spin on the genre: this is the story of the two New York Times journalists, Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, who in 2017 broke the story of Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long history of sexual abuse, kicking the already-extant #MeToo movement into overdrive. But instead of hardworking men in their shirtsleeves running around a newsroom, possibly making the occasional call home to check in on their wives and kids, in She Said we see Twohey (here played by Carey Mulligan) at home on maternity leave, struggling with postpartum depression, and Kantor (Zoe Kazan) thanking her preteen daughter for helping to pacify her younger, needier sister. As reporters, they’re tireless. As moms, they’re tired.
That’s what gives She Said its believable texture. That and the fact that, regardless of this story’s ultimately explosive impact, She Said is simply a story of journalists at work. In between those vignettes of Kantor and Twohey at home caring for their young kids (with the help of their admittedly supportive partners), we see them making a ton of phone calls, not to mention waiting for callbacks, an almost larger part of the game. They meet with some sources who are immediately forthcoming and others who are more reticent. They talk out their ideas with their bosses. (Patricia Clarkson plays veteran Times editor Rebecca Corbett; Andre Braugher is Dean Baquet, at the time the paper’s executive editor.) And they hit the pavement, quite literally. Schrader shows them hustling through crosswalks, striding across parking lots, casting sidelong glances at shady-looking vehicles that are almost certainly following them. Shoe-leather journalism is largely about getting from here to there; sometimes we actually see the soles of these women’s shoes.
But She Said also shows how much strategy and tact matter in journalism, especially when reporters are dealing with delicate subjects. The movie opens with a striking, wordless scene: It’s Ireland in 1992, and a young woman who’s out walking by the shore stumbles onto a location shoot, some sort of period piece involving 18th century soldiers and old wooden ships. The woman looks on, enchanted by what she sees, and it’s suggested that she somehow lands a film job, fulfilling a dream. There’s a cut, and we see her running down a street, distraught, as if being pursued. This vivid sequence lays the groundwork for what’s to come: many of these women have been hanging onto their trauma, possibly in secret, for some 25 years. Some have received payouts for their silence, but that doesn’t erase the wrongdoing that caused them to come forward in the first place. This is the nest of insidious coverups that Kantor steps into as she initiates a basic story about sexual harassment in the workplace. Later, she’ll ask Twohey—who’d previously attempted a frustrating examination of sexual misconduct charges against then-presidential-candidate Donald Trump—to join her. Together, they start gathering names and asking questions. But they have no idea who will be willing to talk—or if their story, one that other journalists had previously tried and failed to crack—will end up making any difference at all.
Read more: Why She Said Is One of the Must-Read Books of 2019
Somehow, Schrader makes that uncertainty a palpable presence in the story. She also shows how, despite that anxiety, Twohey and Kantor manage to get their subjects talking. Samantha Morton is marvelous as a former Weinstein assistant, working out of the London office, who had seen her bully of a boss at his worst, but who also recognized that, as horrifying as his behavior was, he was really just part of a larger systemic problem. Jennifer Ehle—as that same girl we’d seen in the movie’s opening sequence, now middle-aged—has a superb scene in which she describes to Kantor the abuse she suffered, and how she’d initially felt that her own naïveté was the problem. Kantor and Twohey frame their pursuit as one for the greater good: if these women will tell their stories, perhaps they can make things better for other women coming up behind them. But everyone, including the reporters, are aware of the searing facts: These victims have had to live with their own shame and anger for years, simply because they had spoken up and no one had cared.
There are some stiff moments in She Said, scenes in which the two lead actors seem to be declaiming, rather than speaking, to one another. At one point the pixie-ish Kantor asks the more glamorous but equally no-nonsense Twohey whether she’s sorry she took on the assignment. The question hangs in the air perhaps a beat too long before Twohey answers; the movie doesn’t need that kind of manufactured drama. (The script is by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, based on Twohey and Kantor’s account of their investigation, published in 2019.) Mostly, though, Schrader—who also directed the terrific bittersweet romantic comedy I’m Your Man—keeps the gears turning smoothy. In one of the movie’s finest, albeit lighter, moments, Twohey and Kantor, ready to knock on the doors of some unsuspecting potential sources, have shed their workday dark skirts and trousers in favor of less intimidating gear: they laugh when they realize they’re both wearing similar white summer dresses and flat sandals. But what they eventually achieve is serious business. Twohey and Kantor’s reporting cleared the way for more victims of Weinstein to come forward; in 2020 he was convicted of two felonies, including rape, and is currently serving a 23-year prison sentence. These women pulled off a reporting victory with hard work and a few strokes of luck: the cellphone intentionally left on the restaurant table by a major source, the well-known actress who at the eleventh hour decided to go on the record with her story. That’s how journalism works. And sometimes, the little girls waiting for you at home are part of your motivation.
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