Untouchable: The Rise and Fall of Harvey Weinstein review: 'Powerfully gives a human face and voice to eight of Weinstein’s accusers'
The Harvey Weinstein story is an unfinished one. The ending won’t begin to be written until January, when Weinstein is due to face trial on multiple charges of rape and predatory sexual assault.
Consequently, Ursula Macfarlane’s documentary, Untouchable: The Rise and Fall of Harvey Weinstein, feels unfinished too.
The film, with inescapable irony, premiered last January at Sundance – the movie jamboree Weinstein dominated for so long.
But factually it doesn’t really add anything new to the narrative that’s been unfolding since 2017 when The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow, who pops up briefly in the final third, and The New York Times blew the lid on the numerous allegations.
What it does do, and extremely powerfully, is give a human face and voice to eight of Weinstein’s accusers. One of them, Rosanna Arquette, is immediately recognisable. The others, women like Erika Rosenbaum, Caitlin Dulany, Nannette Klatt and Louise Godbold, aren’t so famous. All of them, however, speak unflinchingly, and with obvious pain and distress, of their treatment at Weinstein’s sweaty hands.
His “technique”, if you want to call it that, regularly involved one-on-one meetings with the women in his hotel room, supposedly to talk about how he could help their careers.
He’d usually ask for a “massage”. Or more. Sometimes he’d disappear into the bathroom, then emerge naked or semi-naked.
Hope D’Amore worked for Weinstein 40 years ago, when he was a concert promoter in Buffalo, New York. She recalls having to share a hotel room with him, because the booking was supposedly messed up.
He said he’d sleep in the chair, but climbed into her bed, naked, and raped her.
She was 24 at the time and weighed 100lbs (about seven stone), no physical match for Weinstein, who, she says, is “huge”.
“I said no and I pushed him away, more than once. Then I just stopped.” She thought: “If I just shut up it’ll be over in a few minutes.” Nobody in Buffalo would have believed her if she’d told them what happened. Weinstein basically owned the local cops, paying them to handle concert security.
The other women all tell creepily similar stories spread across many years. The real strength of Macfarlane’s film is the way it intertwines the eight women’s testimonies, so that a pattern of behaviour by Weinstein emerges.
The film also features contributions from former Miramax employees and executives, men and women. Some turned a blind eye to what was going on and express deep regret. Others didn’t.
Kathy Declesis, former assistant to Weinstein’s brother Bob, recalls opening a letter regarding a sexual assault lawsuit against Harvey. “I got good and angry,” she says.
The accuser was quickly paid off in cash and ordered to sign a non-disclosure agreement – a favourite tool of Weinstein’s.
The trouble disappeared. Declesis resigned, telling Bob: “I quit and your brother is a f***ing pig.”
Zelda Perkins, who began working as Weinstein’s London-based assistant when she was 23 and had been warned about his behaviour in advance, became adept at dealing with his advances. If she was “robust” with him, she said, he backed off.
Perhaps the mistake she made was thinking other women could do the same, such as the new young employee she’d hired, who Weinstein attempted to rape in Venice on her first day in the job.
An appalled Perkins resigned and found herself bombarded for days with begging, pleading, snivelling phone messages from Weinstein, played here. Her severance package came with an NDA attached.
Where Macfarlane’s film stumbles is in its failure to place Weinstein’s monstrous behaviour in the larger context of the Hollywood system that enabled him to get away with it.
Untouchable is compelling but uneven and imperfect; a welcome first strike, but no more than that.