Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 8 min.
Release Date: November 18th, 2022 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Maria Schrader Actors: Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Jennifer Ehle, Samantha Morton, Angela Yeoh, Sean Cullen, Zach Grenier
he film begins in Ireland in 1992, before jumping ahead to 2016 – commencing a pattern of cutting back and forth to pertinent yet ultimately unnecessary reenactments, almost as if footage that might be found in a documentary. Many are dramatic bits, but tend not to serve the purpose they believe they do; rather than visualizing crimes, most merely hint at the youthful innocence of victims shortly before becoming victims – and they’re not of the present-day roles that carry the real cinematic weight of unresolved suffering. “Do you really think speaking out might stop him?”
The story proper focuses on New York Times journalists Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) as they strive to get victims to come forward, on the record, against their abusers – firstly against Donald Trump, which transitions to Bill O’Reilly’s ousting from Fox around five months later, and finally to another notable place that harbors and enables sexual assault and harassment: Hollywood. Despite the immediate, threatening, scary consequences of disclosing misconduct by powerful companies and people – such as the well-connected, well-protected, influential, wealthy likes of Miramax and Harvey Weinstein – these reporters and their witnesses are destined to bravely unveil a systemic sexism and power imbalance, even if they don’t know exactly how it will all come together. “Can you see the law taking my side on that?”
Following the template crafted by “Spotlight” (itself modernized from the gold-standard design of “All the President’s Men”), this drama is smartly orchestrated as a thriller, making the most of coercive music, suggestive editing, and ill-lit clandestine meetings. Even with these obvious additives, some of the worst of which involve children precociously evoking reactions, the material is electrifying – and, of course, tragic and infuriating. The greatest detractors are Megan and Jodi’s private lives, which aren’t the subject of research-related vexations as much as mere time-stuffing inclusions (save for a couple moments of comic relief), as if the filmmakers were afraid that without uninspired, commonplace interruptions of hectic family life – ranging from a pregnancy to bothersome kids to neglected spouses – audiences might tire of the simple string of interviews. Yet those interrogations, whether over the phone or in person, are routinely captivating, causing the intermittent intrusions by needy family members to break up the flow of the actual case and add distracting minutes to the runtime.
Fascinatingly, since Trump’s candidacy and presidency took up space in the headlines, average moviegoers might have either forgotten or were never fully educated on Weinstein’s sexual assault allegations and all the lurid details. The aftermath, a headline-splashing spoiler to his downfall, is likely known by the majority; but the little leads here, chiefly related to Miramax employees (and not the A-list celebrities who eventually spoke out, including Rose McGowan, Ashley Judd, and Gwyneth Paltrow), as well as legal imbroglios and media counterattacks, are striking. The non-disclosure agreements, the settlements, the lawsuits, the judicial shenanigans, the HR facilitators, the EEOC red tape, the complicit agents and lawyers, and the malleable press are eye-opening, particularly as the cash-for-silence scheme leads to a standard practice of protecting and perpetuating a cycle of sexual abuse and payouts.
Despite some heavy-handed storytelling tactics (the worst of which involves Ashley Judd, whose appearance diminishes the artistic choice to not show any real people among the actors – who are portraying real people), the story is engaging and potent. Investigative journalism isn’t exactly glamorous or thrilling (despite the international travel and secret rendezvouses); it is, in fact, a lot of exhaustive work. But the importance is monumental (its cultural significance decidedly outweighs the overall entertainment value of an adaptation), as the lead duo uncover worldwide, society-shattering revelations. However, it’s not Megan or Jodi who remain most unforgettable here (Andre Braugher and Patricia Clarkson are worth singling out for their performances as Times staff), but instead the supporting roles of the largely unknown victims – chiefly Jennifer Ehle as Laura Madden and Samantha Morton as Zelda Perkins – providing stark, emotional, ghastly accounts of bullying and maltreatment that highlight the longterm damages and unthinkable atrociousness of one of the most powerful of all Hollywood elites. The message, along with the implications that this problem is still virtually untouched in its potential exposure, are staggering.
– Mike Massie