A well meaning, but ultimately rather limp overview of gender inequality and sexual assault in the film industry, The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret is a documentary that feels like too little, too late. Best suited for those who haven’t watched a nightly news report in over two years, one of the latest documentaries from prolific filmmaker and stage director Barry Avrich (delivering one of two films opening theatrically within two weeks of each other in Toronto) gives an overview of misconduct, assault, and rape allegations brought against some of Hollywood’s biggest power players and stars, but never bothers to dig deeper and figure out what it all could mean.
The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret finds its lynchpin in the case of disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who’s currently facing dozens of rape and sexual assault charges in New York, Los Angeles, and London brought on by a staggering number of women who claim that the former Miramax chief and Oscar courting guru made unwanted and sometimes threatening advances. It’s not surprising that Avrich would want to build such a primer around Weinstein, and not just because he’s a perfect example of how the Hollywood elite is capable of turning a blind eye to horrific indiscretions when the person committing them is successful.
Avrich attempted to make a no-holds-barred look at the super-producer several years ago, only to have his efforts suppressed by the Weinstein Company honcho. Naturally, like many in the industry, Avrich had heard the rumblings of Weinstein’s monstrous private life, but with a lawsuit already looming over his head and no hard evidence at the time to back up his claims, the filmmaker had to tread lightly. In this sense The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret feels both like an overview and a chance for Avrich to get something off his chest that’s clearly been bothering him for quite some time.
The structure here is akin to a longform newsmagazine report, with a wide number of interview subjects contributing to an overall fact dump that feels sterilized for mass consumption. The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret talks with survivors and accusers of high profile sexual misconducts, former employees, assistants, and directors who worked at Miramax, journalists, and lawyers to flesh out this system that enabled a master manipulator like Harvey to thrive and skate through his lauded career without consequences for his actions. There are other high profile figures brought down by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements that are touched upon here – Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, and most notably Bill O’Reilly – but The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret remains predominantly focused on the Weinstein case.
That makes perfect sense when one considers that most former employees of Harvey are no longer bound to their previously airtight and staggeringly litigious nondisclosure agreements. Plenty of people are willing to talk about their experiences in ways that Avrich couldn’t previously get on the record before. The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret is at its best when illustrating how famous cads can lawyer-up quickly and hide behind reams of legalese to confound, bully, and suppress anyone that might say anything about them that’s less than exemplary. By looking at this aspect of Hollywood and celebrity culture, Avrich makes a pronounced, connecting line between people like Weinstein and O’Reilly and the current American president, a man who has been caught several times bragging about potential sexual assaults as if they were no big deal. That’s an important part of this overall story that remains frustratingly underexposed, and one that Avrich handles rather well.
However, the rest of The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret is too stoic and standard to make much of a difference or lasting impact. Although Avrich gets some help from female co-writers Melissa Hood and editor Michèle Hozer, there’s no actual fire in this film’s belly. It exists in its own “just the facts, ma’am” manner, interested almost exclusively in rehashing what’s generally already known and agreed upon as fact. While many of the people interviewed are clearly passionate about creating change and bringing such abuses of power to light, Avrich’s film is somewhat cold and distant. It’s virtually indistinguishable from any number of nightly news reports on the same subject, and it still exists in its own Hollywood bubble. Such an approach is unsurprising when one notes that following the film’s premiere at Hot Docs in the spring, a one hour edited version of The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret aired on CBC a couple of months ago, and the feature length version (which is just now getting a theatrical release) aired on Documentary Channel earlier this week. It’s not so much an impassioned or empathetic plea for change, and much more of a sterile, stock piece of safe journalism. It’s virtually indistinguishable from a Dateline NBC exposee on the same subject.
The issues raised by The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret aren’t ones that should be played safe or devoid of emotion. It’s a topic where the people raising such issues should be allowed to speak freely, openly, and graphically about what happened so there’s no chance of them being misunderstood and misrepresented. I believe that Avrich understands and properly represents survivors of harassment and abuse, but The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret is the product of a journalist keeping their cards close to their chest. There’s very little here that can’t be gleaned from thousands of other interviews, documents, and documentaries already out there, and The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret looks and moves like a nightly news bulletin that’s already over a year too late to make much of an impact. It’s a vital topic to keep in the public consciousness, but as a documentary, it’s rather ineffective. It’s exactly the kind of film one expects a white, male industry mover and shaker would make about such a subject.
The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret opens at The Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema on Friday, November 23, 2018.
Check out the trailer for The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret:
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