How complicit would you be in a company headed by a sexual predator?
That’s the question Julia Garner’s Jane is grappling with. She works as an intern and assistant to an entertainment boss heavily modelled on Harvey Weinstein.
Even though he’s faceless and nameless, his presence is felt in each claustrophobic scene.
The Assistant, directed by documentary-maker Kitty Green, follows Jane over the course of one very long, very tedious day.
It’s good at picking out the small daily humiliations of being an unpaid intern.
Jane eats her cheap cereal in the cramped office kitchen, before placing expensive pastries out for managers.
Later she’s humiliated by a colleague for getting his lunch order wrong.
In one memorable scene Jane is belittled by her boss and then forced to issue a grovelling apology herself.
Jane’s working life vacillates between the mundane and the alarming, and the film works best when it combines both.
We’re with Jane as she travels to work in the dark, photocopies schedules, lays out bottled water for meetings and answers the phone to her boss’s irate wife.
And we’re also with Jane when, apparently unfazed, she picks an earring off his office carpet and pulls on rubber gloves to scrub a stain from his sofa.
With each of the passing 88 minutes, it becomes clearer that her boss’s behaviour is not only known about—it is tolerated.
His crimes are so well-known that everyone talks about them. From bawdy lads’ humour about Cannes in the past to an assurance from Matthew Macfadyen, as the firm’s HR manager, that she’s “not his type”.
It’s the meeting between the two that provides the dramatic crux to the film.
It is a gripping film, and a commendable effort for an industry that is grappling with the legacy of Weinstein
In a dexterity that will be familiar to those who watched him in Succession, Macfadyen manages to flit from concerned to menacing and back to confused within seconds.
Although the audience never see any violence, those familiar with the details of the Weinstein cases will recognise the hallmarks.
A new, young, assistant, arrives fresh off a plane, suitcase in one hand and a non-disclosure agreement in the other.
She’s swiftly driven to a hotel to be met by the boss—something laughed about by his executive producers.
The way that his employees seem to either ignore his behaviour or actually help him groom women is perhaps the most stomach-churning element.
In one chilling scene, they patiently wait while he presumably rapes someone in the comfort of his office, unseen and unchallenged.
The Assistant isn’t the first drama to focus on MeToo and it certainly won’t be the last.
But it is a gripping film, and a commendable effort for an industry that is grappling with the legacy of Weinstein.
It’s an industry that’s dominated by a few very powerful people, who are happy to use young vulnerable women as disposable objects.
And it’s a powerful meditation on power, complicity and consent, and a must-watch for those interested in seeing an end to Weinstein and his ilk.