Film review: The Assistant

PUBLISHED: 09:12 07 May 2020 | UPDATED: 09:12 07 May 2020

A Still from The Assistant

A Still from The Assistant

Archant

A portrait of a harried personal assistant to an abusive media mogul gets to the heart of how Harvey Weinstein got away with it for so long

A Still from The AssistantA Still from The Assistant

The pressing question about Harvey Weinstein is how did he get away with it for so long?

Why did so many principled, self-righteous Hollywood stars completely fail to notice anything for over two decades? Perhaps the thing to remember is that Weinstein wasn’t a single issue abuser. Aside from being a prolific sexual predator, he bullied everybody. He seemed to spend every minute, of every day, being unpleasant to somebody, in some way.

As such, I suspect his behaviour was tolerated because, deep down, this obese, sweaty sleazeball appealed to Hollywood’s self-image as a brutal town where the casting couch preyed on the innocent, and philistine producers abused the artists.

It’s the time-honoured lament of the Hollywood talent; oh, the beautiful things we could do if it wasn’t for Them. He got everyone else off the hook. Plus they could pride themselves on having toughed it out and made it to the top.

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Or maybe it’s like the joke about the man at the circus whose job was to clean up the elephant dung. Asked why he didn’t quit, he replied indignantly, “what, and leave showbusiness.”

Weinstein is the central absence of Green’s compelling but low key portrait of a day in the working life of an assistant Jane (Garner) for notactuallyWeinstein in the New York offices of notactuallyMiramax.

Amid the rounds of photocopying, kitchen cleaning and message delivering she is expected to join the corporate turning of a blind eye to his abuse of two young ladies. Like the audience, they see nothing of this. There’s no hard evidence on screen. We all have deniability, even if that’s implausible.

The movie’s a fine demonstration of how sometimes skirting around an issue, can be the best way to get to the heart of it. Green’s smartest move lies in not giving the monster a human face. He is never seen, no big-name actor gets to give us their Harvey. He is an empty chair in his office, an angry voice down the phone, an intemperate e-mail. Mostly though, he is the figure that they are all cleaning up after. The most telling detail is the waiting; all the people standing or sitting around patiently waiting for him to finish.

4/5 stars

Go to halfmanhalfcritic.com for longer versions and a review of Eureka Masters of Cinema release of The 1000 Eyes of Dr Mabuse.


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