I emerged from an early screening of The Assistant a few weeks ago to the news that a jury had been selected in Harvey Weinstein's sexual assault and rape trial. Coming more than two years after The New York Times and The New Yorker first published their reports of sexual harassment and assault against the famed film producer, the headlines were a stark reminder of how long it can take for a wealthy and well-connected man to face the accusations against him in court—even after a stunning public downfall that helped give rise to the #MeToo movement.
Although it's not clear exactly when it's taking place, Kitty Green's quietly devastating movie returns us to a time before #MeToo and its explosive revelations of sexual abuse rattled the world and the entertainment industry in particular.
The story unfolds over a single day in a New York film production office run by a powerful mogul who is clearly modeled on Weinstein. But the character is never identified or seen. He looms menacingly large off-screen, invisible yet ever-present. Sometimes we hear his voice, booming yet muffled behind his office door. Sometimes we hear him barking on the phone at his overworked junior assistant, Jane, a college graduate who was hired just a few months ago.
The actress Julia Garner, who won an Emmy for Ozark, plays Jane with piercing reserve. Whatever excitement she may have once felt at the chance to work for one of the film industry's most powerful figures seems to have abandoned her.