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The Assistant – Movie Review

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The Assistant – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Level Film

The Harvey Weinstein scandal rocked the entertainment industry, although many felt this was information that should have gone out to the public much earlier. Documentary filmmaker Kitty Green’s first narrative feature The Assistant opts for a minimalist approach in depicting the offices of a Weinstein-like producer and it’s one that brings the needed chilliness to the subject matter. Told through the point-of-view of an assistant, the movie is effective in showing many peoples’ complicit actions that allow this sort of horrible behaviour to exist. It’s also helped by a strong leading performance from Julia Garner as we see her navigate a single day in this building.

This is a movie that uses sound and imagery just as much as dialogue to convey ideas. The office lighting is always low, almost like they’re conserving energy by not switching on all of the lights. It’s the first example of how Green gives an idea of the atmosphere in this place. The many sounds of the environment are also used effectively with the typing of keyboards and phones ringing frequently through the course of the day. There’s something sinister about this place, but Green isn’t too in-your-face about it. She instead provides little hints of the attitude there, mostly seen in the contrasting behaviours of Garner’s Jane and her unnamed co-workers sitting nearby.

Garner is required to carry a lot of this movie and she succeeds. It’s a performance that requires subtlety and she pulls off the quiet nature of this character. The screenplay cleverly peppers elements of exposition throughout the dialogue to understand her background and her aspirations. She’s immediately sympathetic and Green and Garner are able to get us inside of her thought process. People often ask why women don’t come forward sooner and this movie is able to give us an idea of the fear many have if they do. Green is never seen abused nor do we even get a glimpse of her boss (outside of telephone calls), but there’s still a scary subtext running through the film.

One notable scene in The Assistant comes from a meeting with a human resources representative, played by Matthew Macfadyen. Like the rest of the film, there’s a quiet intensity as we see the mood change, depending on what the characters are saying. The back-and-forth between Garner and Macfadyen takes some interesting roads and shows it’s not often so easy to come forward. Green seems intent on showing how women are hardly taken seriously, even when they’re told their opinions have value. This is the sort of scene that needed the right directorial touch to make it work and Kitty Green delivers in capturing the inter-office atmosphere of that moment.

A film inspired by what went on inside the Weinstein Company could have gone for something heavily theatrical and there probably will be a movie like that one day. Instead, Kitty Green takes a different approach by striping everything down to the most minimalist approach and that ends up adding to the tension and fear her lead is feeling. Her filmmaking approach chooses to show, rather than tell, as we get a sense of what it might have been like being a woman working under Weinstein’s command. Movies also very rarely show the paperwork and telephone answering side of filmmaking that goes on away from the set. The Assistant becomes a unique film about an important subject matter that allows the audience to think for themselves and reflect on what potentially happens in every workplace environment.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison