It’s no surprise that every few years one movie after another becomes a serious contender for the Best Picture Oscar.
People in the film industry love stories about how films are made.
Likewise, journalists tend to love films about journalism.
All the President’s Men — the 1976 drama about the two Washington Post reporters who ran the Watergate story — will forever be a favorite of many journalists.
For the person typing those words, it’s 2015’s “Spotlight,” a dramatization of the Pulitzer Prize-winning efforts of a Boston Globe investigative team to shed light on widespread sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests and efforts bring to the church to cover them up. It’s as close to perfect as movies come.
So were we inclined to like “She Said,” a drama that hit theaters last week about two New York Times reporters who sought to investigate allegations of sexual abuse — and subsequent payments to victims to get them to keep quiet – to be reported by film industry giant Harvey Weinstein ? Without question.
Still, so many elements in this excellent chronicle of the hard work of journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor deserve recognition, from the respective performances of Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan, to the brisk but not rushed pace of director Maria Schrader, to the purposeful storytelling of screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz.
Based on the bestseller She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Twohey and Kantor, the film introduces us to a pregnant 2016 Megan who is reporting on sexual abuse allegations against then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump card.
Months later, Trump was elected and Megan is suffering from what may not just be a case of postpartum depression.
Meanwhile, Jodi, mother of two young girls, is digging in Weinstein. She seeks dialogue with actresses and other women who have worked for him and may have been abused by the incredibly powerful man.
Upon returning to work, Megan is persuaded to work with Jodi, in part by then-Deputy Editor-in-Chief Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson), who will most closely oversee work on the story.
And so we watch as Megan and Jodi follow leads and seemingly hit dead ends. And they’re keen to get actresses like Rose McGowan, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd — who portrays herself in the film — as well as lesser-known women to share their experiences with Weinstein.
But Weinstein is a big personality both physically and figuratively, a producer of acclaimed films like Pulp Fiction and Good Will Hunting, and a multiple Academy Award winner, and won’t go down easily. (Weinstein is heard in an actual recording made by a woman and portrayed by Mike Houston in phone calls and from the off.)
Also, Times journalists learn that they are competing for the story with writer Ronan Farrow, who works for The New Yorker, who published his article a few days after the Times article in October 2017.
As portrayed by Kazan (“The Plot Against America,” “The Big Sick”), Jodi comes across as very sensitive, listening to alleged victims with a face that conveys understanding and great concern.
In the hands of Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman,” “An Education”), Megan is a bit more intense, showing an ability to be tough on male sources when she wants information from them. (And you can’t help but cheer a moment she absolutely attacks a man in a bar who won’t leave Jodi, Rebecca and her alone as they try to put their heads together on the story. Read the room, Age .)
Alongside Clarkson (“The Station Agent”), Andre Braugher (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) provides solid support work as then-New York Times Editor-in-Chief Dean Baquet; Samantha Morton (“In America”) as former Miramax employee Zelda Perkins; and most notably, Jennifer Ehle (“Zero Dark Thirty”) as Miramax co-star Laura Madden, who grapples with a personal crisis while reporters attempt to conjure up a traumatic time from her past.
According to its production notes, the film was the first feature film of its size to be shot in the Times’ actual newsroom, and access to the building – during the novel coronavirus pandemic, when many employees were working remotely – gives “a real authenticity” to them said.” And while we might argue that we never actually see these reporters working at their desks — they conduct all of their calls and interviews on the go, or at least by the window or in the break room, leading to “She Said” introducing herself feels a bit like an episode of “Law & Order” at times — there’s no denying that Schrader (“I’m Your Man,” “Unorthodox”) gave it the energy it needed.
And since this is a film consisting entirely of scenes of people talking, it helps that the dialogue from Lenkiewicz sizzles without ever being over the top. You won’t find any Oscar bait speeches here.
“She Said” reaches the lofty heights of “All the President’s Men” and “Spotlight”. From here no, but it’s pretty close.
Regardless, it tells an important story that gave a voice to women who deserved to be heard and helped fuel the #MeToo movement.
And like the one narrated in Spotlight, it’s not just about the perpetrator — Weinstein has since been convicted of third-degree rape and a criminal sexual offense in New York and is on trial for rape in Los Angeles — it’s about a System that allowed abuse.
“She Said” is rated R for language and descriptions of sexual assault.
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.