The Assistant: Harvey Weinstein didn’t produce this film. Well, he sort of did

Review: A gripping recreation of the intimidation that allows for sexual abuse

Film Title: The Assistant

Director: Kitty Green

Starring: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Makenzie Leigh, Kristine Froseth,Noah Robbins, Jon Orsini

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 85 min

Wed, Apr 29, 2020, 05:00

   

As the lowest-ranking assistant at a New York production company, Jane (Julia Garner) experiences long work days characterised by menial tasks, snacking on crumbs and cereal, staving off angry callers, cleaning whatever new stains are on her boss’s executive couch, picking up broken jewellery from his floor, organising travel, and grovelling.  Evil has seldom looked more banal – and thankless – than it does in Kitty Green’s modern office politics drama. 

Harvey Weinstein doesn’t appear in The Assistant, nor does anyone mention him by name, but Jane’s boss is clearly a stand-in. (Before writing the spartan screenplay, the director interviewed dozens of women, some of whom had worked for the Weinstein Company and Miramax.) We never see him, but we do hear his voice on the phone as he bullies and cajoles. “They told me you were smart,” he bellows at the constantly cowed Jane. 

She works alongside two other male assistants (Noah Robbins and Jon Orsini) who already know the required wording when the boss demands Jane write an apology email. “It’s not my place to question your decisions,” they helpfully dictate over her shoulder. “I’m grateful for the continued opportunity.”

Michael Latham’s static camera work adds to the sense that there is no way out

One of Jane’s many questionable duties is to take a young woman to a hotel for an encounter with her employer. Even in this day-in-the-life drama, this is not an isolated incident. When Jane covers for him, that inspires even more verbal abuse.

The Assistant isn’t interested in what goes on behind closed doors; it is, rather, a gripping re-creation of the culture of intimidation and control that allows for sexual abuse.

When Jane finally trudges wearily toward the HR office to report her concerns, Matthew Macfadyen’s Wilcock clinically leaves her – and the viewer – reeling. Michael Latham’s static camera work adds to the sense that there is no way out. 

Green’s follow-up to the innovative crime documentary Casting JonBenet is elegant, gripping and minimalist. For every second of screen time, Julia Garner is terrific in a role that often relies entirely on movement and facial expression.

Streaming on various platforms from May 1st