Content warning: Sexual assault, rape
As Harvey Weinstein finally faces spending the rest of his days rotting in a prison cell, the world is still reeling from the revelations that shocked both Hollywood and the world alike and spawned the #MeToo movement. How could this be allowed to happen? How is it that society allows men in high places the freedom to commit horrific acts in search of their own sick gratification, yet our systems are unable or unwilling to enact justice upon them? This soul searching, particularly in the shadowy, backwards and patriarchal world of film, is long overdue.
Up steps Kitty Green and her devastating new drama, The Assistant, a film committed to asking these unnerving questions in a masterful manner.
For its entire runtime, the film follows a day in the life of Jane, played by the astonishing Julia Garner, a recent college graduate and aspiring film producer who finds herself on the bottom rung of the corporate titan that is the commercial film industry. Much of what occurs on screen, if one was to somehow remove the context, is remarkably unremarkable. Garner is seen taking a taxi to work, operating a photocopier, cleaning some dishes – yet the genius of The Assistant is its ability to make even the most menial tasks a gripping source of angst and fear.
Thus, the film is steadfastly grounded in reality, a vital aspect of any piece that decides to dedicate itself to such sensitive subject matter. Whilst some have lamented criticism along the lines of the film is ‘too slow’ and that ‘the story doesn’t go anywhere’, such interpretations seem determined to miss the point of what the audience is forced to witness. It’s not supposed to build up to a finale, a melodramatic courtroom showdown between victims and perpetrators. Instead, the spectacle captures just one solitary day in a world of systematic misogyny, and is vastly more impactful because of this nuanced, believable approach.
Julia Garner’s performance is incredible and displays a truly absurd degree of performative range. Whilst in Netflix’s hit-series, Ozark, she is a formidable figure who regularly launches into outbursts and asserts her will upon others, here she adopts a role that demands the use of few words and fleeting glances. From anxious fidgeting to perfectly timed pauses, she portrays more emotions in minuscule actions than others would need entire soliloquies to properly depict. It is no wonder that the film is so devastating, heartbreaking and horrifying within just an hour and a half of runtime.
A range of other daring creative decisions serve to make the film brilliantly unique. We only catch glimpses of the predatory boss, and yet we no doubt detest, fear and loath them all the same. We hear him sneer down the phone, read his passive aggressive emails and yet only act as a distant witness to his evil.
What the creators of the film chose to focus on instead, is the way that such despicable treatment of his inferiors has trickled down the office hierarchy, so much so that complaints are treated with contempt and cries for help are met with deafening silence. The Assistant isn’t just determined to expose the despicable doings of the untold number of Harvey Weinsteins of this world, but also those who fail to hold them to account and unwittingly allow for such monsters to exist. It casts a chilling spotlight on office culture and forces us to confront our own failings. It’s cinema at its raw, angry and impactful best.
Image: mohamed_hassan via Needpix.com