It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since The New York Times published their bombshell piece by reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey that immediately ended Harvey Weinstein’s career and changed the world. The piece, titled “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades,” didn’t start the #MeToo movement – nor did it end sexual harassment and assault in the film industry (or any industry) – but it did represent a watershed moment in the world’s discussion of these issues and our perception of the magnitude of the matters at hand. Rich Lowry, the editor-in-chief of the National Review, was even quoted stating that Kantor and Twohey’s investigation into Weinstein was “the single most influential piece of journalism [he could] remember.” Still, despite this story’s significance, when a film adaptation of Kantor and Twohey’s book She Said (the novel chronicling the entirety of their investigation from start to finish) was announced, some were up in arms. Was it too soon to truly get a sense of their piece’s impact on the world and women’s social perils, given how much work still needs to be done? And hadn’t we already heard every angle on this issue imaginable after five years’ worth of analysis and think pieces? Well, think again, as She Said is not only an illuminating – and invigorating – inspection of how impossible it was to put this piece together and trap Weinstein in a web of his own making but also an impassioned and inspiring ode to the art of journalism itself, and to the dogged determination of journalists around the world who refuse to rest until the story is told and change can start.
We begin with the tenacious Twohey (a commanding Carey Mulligan), who initially came to the Times to investigate the sexual misconduct claims against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, which really reached a head around the time of the second presidential debate in 2016 (and around the time that infamous Access Hollywood audio was released). However, despite all her work, her articles don’t make the difference she desires, and – as we all know – Trump is elected anyway. But that doesn’t mean some other monstrous men won’t get what’s coming to them. A few months later, while Twohey is on maternity leave, a New York Times article on Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly and his sexual harassment settlements leads to the network terminating his employment.
The success of this story compels editor Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson) to call upon her writers to seek out more accounts of sexual harassment in the workplace – every workplace – and identify why it’s so pervasive. Kantor (Zoe Kazan), present for this meeting, later comes across a lead that seems to identify producer Harvey Weinstein as a rapist in the film industry that actress Rose McGowan had spoken out about in the past, and one she now intends to write a book about. Pursuing McGowan, Kantor quickly becomes aware of not just the scope of sexual harassment and assault throughout Hollywood as a whole, but particularly relating to Weinstein and his production company Miramax, and because of her experience breaking stories like this before, Twohey becomes a part of this process as well, with the two soon working in tandem to untangle Harvey’s lies and let the women he’s hurt be heard for the first time.
There’s so much ground to cover in She Said that it’s a miracle that it comes in just over two hours long and feels as perfectly paced as it is, playing not like another bland and banal biographical drama but instead like a propulsive political thriller that keeps us on the edge of our seat with every twist and turn, even though we know exactly how this story is going to end – which is the magic of the marriage of Maria Schrader’s diligent direction and Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s succinctly plotted screenplay. Somehow, these two found a way to make such an oft-told tale fresh – and frightening – again.
Those who have read the book the film is based on probably won’t be as surprised by the intricacy of Kantor and Twohey’s investigation (and all the encumbrances they encountered) as depicted here, but for the many others who are only familiar with the basic beats of Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace – and maybe even just the headlines – She Said will be a wrenching watch from the first frame to the last, where Schrader and Lenkiewicz manage to make us doubt what we already know is true because that’s what Kantor and Twohey lived with every single day, and we’re never not fully immersed in their frazzled, yet ferociously motivated, perspectives.
The consistently brilliant Nicholas Britell (Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk) also assists here with a staggeringly suspenseful score that enhances the already unbearable intensity in every single scene until we, too, feel pushed to the breaking point by yet another lead that refuses to go on the record, or another curveball thrown at us by Harvey and his team, desperately trying to tank the story every chance they get.
However, while the film’s thorough research – and refreshingly stripped-down (and un-sensationalistic) approach – is tremendously thrilling, it’s the portrayal of Kantor’s and Twohey’s balance of both their work and home lives that sets this film apart from other classics in the “journalism cinema” subgenre. It was two working moms who took down Harvey Weinstein and forever changed the course of history by making the #MeToo movement mainstream, and they did so by relentlessly pursuing every lead imaginable for months (sometimes even waiting outside a potential source’s house until the dead of night when they came home, or flying across the world to interview those who wouldn’t answer their calls), working nights and weekends with seemingly no end in sight to these unnatural schedules, and warding off threats and harassment almost every hour of every day – all while simultaneously straining to make their kids’ lunches every morning and put their kids to bed every night.
These problems are even more personal for Mulligan’s Twohey, who, following the birth of her daughter, struggles with postpartum depression yet still finds herself drawn to her work and continually compelled by this case specifically – sometimes at the detriment of her mental health. Mulligan has made a career out of perfecting the portrayal of the “woman on the verge of a mental breakdown” (see Shame, Wildlife, Promising Young Woman, etc.). Still, her depiction of Twohey’s troubles here is surprisingly more subtle and sensitive, and successfully so. Even if the script slightly loses track of her mental strife later on amongst all the other story threads, it’s deeply embedded in Mulligan’s empathetic performance the whole way through and one of the things that make her role as memorable as it is.
The other thing? Why that would be Mulligan’s signature “take no prisoners” spunk. If you were a fan of her ferocity as Promising Young Woman‘s Cassandra Thomas, you’ll find more of that massive moxie here, but with a bit more control and calculation to her chutzpah. While it’s gloriously gratifying to watch Mulligan’s Twohey tell a misogynistic barfly to “fuck off,” it’s equally as entertaining – if not more so – to see her go toe-to-toe with Weinstein’s corrupt cronies. This is a woman who (unfortunately) has extensive experience with handling horrible men – and ultimately getting what she wants out of them – and her “cat-and-mouse” game with the likes of Harvey’s lawyer (Peter Friedman) and other Miramax executives during which she strokes their egos and distracts them with small talk before going in for the kill, is absolutely awe-inspiring. It’s these scenes that so stupendously showcase her strengths as a reporter that make the breakdowns all the more brutal, especially when taking into account how emotionally draining it is as a woman to be unearthing all this evil that’s been inflicted on those just like you.
It’s an inconceivable ask – and something Kazan’s Kantor notes as well, later seen having trouble sleeping on account of her nightmares of Weinstein – but it’s one that the two know they can’t ignore because if they don’t break this story, no one will. And even though it does take a toll on them in the process, we get the sense that the story was only as strong – and successful – as it was because it was women sharing it, and the same can be said for the film, too. There’s an inherent empathy in women’s storytelling – particularly on women’s issues – that can’t be ignored, as, without Kantor and Twohey’s tender treatment of such shocking (and potentially salacious) subject matter and complete commitment to cultivating camaraderie with their sources (played poignantly here by the powerful Jennifer Ehle and Samantha Morton, among others), there probably wouldn’t have been a piece, period, and Harvey’s reign of terror would still rage on.
Women watching this film will likely find it impossible not to see themselves in these stories and situations – whether you’re a female journalist or working mother like Kantor or Twohey or not, there is still a distinct and delicate kinship we feel with one another as mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters, especially when we’ve been wronged – but the beauty of She Said is that Schrader and Lenkiewicz have been so comprehensive in their coverage of this case (and the emotional impact of all the tragedies that took place) that it should be nearly impossible for any human being regardless of gender not to be monumentally moved by the effective efforts of good journalists doing their job, speaking truth to power, and publishing “all the news that’s fit to print,” as The Times‘ old slogan goes. We live in an imperfect world, where other Harvey Weinsteins still roam free, hiding out until their time of reckoning comes too – and mark our words, it will – and while it’s easy to lose faith in the press or our justice system after countless investigative cases have fallen through their fingers and allowed crooked cretins to still cause chaos in society, we need to spotlight stories like She Said now more than ever, as a reminder that we do have the potential to push for structural change and hold these animals accountable. As stated at the start of this piece, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey didn’t solve sexism, nor did they originate the #MeToo movement. But they’re the reason we’re talking about these issues at all today and the reason that, despite our perilous past, we still possess the hope for a happier and healthier future for all – especially our girls.