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The Assistant

Year: 2019
Production Co: 3311 Productions
Director: Kitty Green
Writer: Kitty Green
Cast: Julia Garner

I don't know how much this movie was overtly intended to be about Harvey Weinstein, but make no mistake, it's about Harvey Weinstein. The elephant in the room who's mistreating the titular assistant, Jane (Julia Garner) is never seen and only ever referred to as 'him' or 'the chairman', but his influence casts a dark shadow over the workplace depicted and the entire film.

It follows a day in the life of Jane's work at a boutique and very prestigious movie production company in New York, and it very skilfully depicts not just the influence of an abusive, predatory movie mogul of the sort Weinstein became a symbol for but the system surrounding such men that protects and enables them.

The pivotal scene about the professional environment comes when Jane marches next door with as much confidence as she can muster to talk about making an official complaint to the HR or grievance officer, certain that a naive and pretty young coworker is put in a position of sexual predation by the boss when she's sent to a hotel with him.

The man is friendly and helpful on the surface, but Jane's confidence in her assertion crumbles as the truth is gradually revealed – the evidence is too scant to level any charges (an earring left on the floor) and even if it wasn't, does she really want to rock the boat and risk her own promising career? Jane shrinks back, apologetic and frightened into submission despite her disquiet.

And that doesn't include the phone calls where he screams abuse at her for some sleight she had no choice in, or his wife similarly screaming at her over his behaviour, while she tries to organise travel plans, send parcels, work with dismissive colleagues who are just as terrified of the unseen boss and do her job.

The filmmaking craft is perfectly suited to the material. It's an austere office with muted colours and clean, straight lines and darkness, and the characters' movements through the story are slow and quiet, all of it adding to the rising nerve-saw of tension because you know there's a toxic rot at the centre of it all that constantly threatens to burst through the genteel surroundings.

Garner is simply brilliant in the role, an efficient, quiet and almost mousy presence who wants to get her work done and hopefully get ahead in her chosen field but who has to navigate a cesspit of conflicting egos, professional fear and absolute lack of empathy or support – the only time her two (physically) closest colleagues show any interest in her work is when they're advising her on grovelling, supine apology emails to her boss after his tantrums.

The film quite rightly became the focal point of the MeToo movement but despite any creative strengths in the writing, staging or acting (and they're all unshakable), there's still a deep dimension of hypocrisy.

Not on the part of the team behind this particular movie per se, just the industry as a whole and its propensity to pat itself on the back for tackling worthy subjects like this, even after keeping morally reprehensible behaviour out of the spotlight as long as the people behind it made money and won awards.

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